- ‘Having a good laugh’ is just as important for remaining healthy well into old age
- Socialising boosts brain health and can protect against heart disease and cancer
Eating healthily and exercising are among the most common tips dished out by health chiefs for those looking to age well.
But social engagement, friendship and ‘having a good laugh’ are just as important for remaining healthy well into old age, says Professor Rose Anne Kenny.
The world-leading geriatrician at Trinity College Dublin said that interacting with others boosts brain health and can even protect against heart disease and cancer.
Professor Kenny told the ZOE podcast: ‘Social participation, friendship, social relationships [are] as important as all of the other measures that we’ve talked about so frequently, like exercise and diet and physical activity, and even smoking.’
People have evolved to need others, ‘just like we’ve evolved to need food and we’ve evolved to need water’, she said.
Eating healthily and exercising are among the most common tips dished out by health chiefs for those looking to age well. But social engagement, friendship and ‘having a good laugh’ are just as important for remaining healthy well into old age, says Professor Rose Anne Kenny
‘When we deny ourselves that exposure the effect is in fact, as bad as, as toxic as anything you can get, biologically,’ Professor Kenny said.
She said that spending time with friends and family can mitigate against cognitive decline and dementia.
A swathe of studies have shown that being lonely is one of the major risk factors for developing memory-robbing conditions.
They show that isolation is linked with smaller brain size and difficulties with vital skills, such as the ability to plan, focus attention and remember instructions.
Those who are ‘painfully socially isolated’ are at higher risk of developing poor brain health, says Professor Kenny.
On top of this risk, loneliness has been linked with chronic inflammation.
She added: ‘Chronic inflammation is probably the underlying biological dysfunction or abnormality that underpins all of the big diseases we know about — cancer, heart disease, strokes, et cetera.
‘So loneliness triggers chronic inflammation, which is why those diseases are associated very much so with loneliness, as is dementia.’
Professor Kenny said it is vital to ‘put as much effort into building your friendships as you do to choosing your foods’ or selecting a physical activity that you like.
However, she noted that socialising is not about the number of relationships a person has but the quality.
‘If a friendship or a family member or engagement with a family member is strained or unpleasant, that is not good for us. And we find that triggers a stress process,’ Professor Kenny added.
As well as meeting up with friends, she recommended volunteering, joining a club or going to exercise classes to benefit from group interaction.