Social Connections – its role in health and longevity

January 15, 2023

Social connections are an intrinsic part of being human. We are social by nature. Science has shown that having social relationships have a positive impact. On your health and longevity. But you might ask, why? What are the pathways in the human body affected? How does that promote longevity?
 
One of the pathways affected by social connections is the immune system. Strong social connections increase the production of white blood cells and antibodies. White blood cells help to fight off infections and diseases. Social connections can also reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a risk factor for many chronic health conditions.
 
The nervous system is also affected by social connections. Strong social connections have reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. Both can increase the risk of chronic health conditions. Not to mention the challenges of being anxious itself. Anxiety also promotes the production of cortisol, which beyond a point becomes toxic.
 
Relationships, especially those that keep you engaged and learning improve cognitive function. Interactions delay the onset of cognitive decline.
 
Social connection has been found to have an impact on various physiological systems. It promotes the production of hormones such as oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes feelings of trust and bonding between people. The dopamine pathway is a neural pathway in the brain. It is involved in reward-motivated behavior. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. It is released in response to pleasurable or rewarding stimuli. Social interactions trigger such reactions, the ability to laugh with a friend. An increase in dopamine in the brain, increases our motivation to engage in similar social interactions in the future. When this happens your dopamine receptors increase in the brain. So you have created a virtuous cycle of action and reward.
 
So is it quality or quantity of social connections or do both matter? The research seems to suggest that quality and quantity both matter. The deeper the engagement with people you care about and who care about you, the better. More is better up to a point, after which the utility can diminish. Find your tribe! 

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