The Fearless approach to achieving and maintaining good health has several legs of support, eight to be exact. The first “s” in this model, which I am in the process of publishing, is for “social energy.” Human beings are inherently social. We, in general, like to communicate, collaborate or participate in numerous activities from pre-school throughout adulthood. Child psychologists recommend parents engage their children in social activities early (before school age). It is just as important for adults to engage in social activities.
Anti-social behavior, for an adult, is considered unusual and frowned upon by society. But what amount of social behavior should we have to stay healthy? I’m unaware of a study that addresses how much or how little socializing counts, but self-isolation is unsuitable for brain health.
We know that plant-based eating loads our bodies with vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that keep our brains healthy. Fiber, our guts’ most desirable food, is only found in plants. Research shows that exercise is an excellent way for older adults to preserve brain health .and reduce the progression of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD). See the article I posted on exercise last month (linked below).
Social energy is critical because it helps us tap into different brain regions and simultaneously move muscles, bones, and joints. When we are active in social activities, it gets us out of bed and, often, out of our homes.
Engagement in social activities or community projects challenges and integrates signals from different areas of our brain. The prefrontal cortex is for executive thinking (decision making). The back of our brain processes visual information and interacts with other parts of the brain (for example, our language center in the temporal lobe). Our motor cortex governs movement, and our non-dominant half of the brain stimulates creative thoughts. Finally, the hippocampus and other Limbic system components, essential for memory, mood, and emotion, become active participants in social engagement.
My last post focused on the importance of engaging the mind and choosing challenging, complex, and purposeful activities. Social activities often possess all three requirements.
Many adults over thirty have already laid the groundwork for cognitive decline because of poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. The standard American diet puts most of us at risk because of saturated fat intake and lack of adequate fiber. But non-dietary interventions may help to counteract our past mistakes as we clean up our diet. Many studies addressing dementia risks focus on the importance of social engagement.
One-quarter of Americans living in community dwellings are isolated. A survey reported forty-three percent of adults felt lonely. A thirteen-year study of 2000 adults reported less decline in cognitive impairment in those involved in social and productive activities.
A study in 2012 looked at three non-pharmacological interventions and how they impacted aging. They used physical and intellectual stimulation and social activities and concluded that all three helped slow cognitive decline.
The distraction from the horrors of the local community, country, or world may explain some social activities’ benefits. The sense of worth and accomplishment upon completing a purposeful, collaborative project is invaluable.
The CoVid-19 pandemic escalated anxiety and depression to levels not previously experienced in this generation. The isolation during the first two years took its toll on many adults and children. We may be trying to sort this out for children for decades.
We cannot overestimate the importance of children taking classes in school. Some children continue to suffer from the impact of isolation and associated pitfalls.
Whether your concern is about a child or older adult, it may be challenging because setting up social events may not be enough. There is no social energy if the child or adult sits off to the side and is not participating. In this case, exploring what may interest the individual may be necessary. Perhaps music, dance, poetry, card games, board games, sports, or pets. Engagement often follows the tweaking of personal interests.
Here are some social activities to consider:
- Getting together with a group of friends to learn line dancing
- Get involved with political campaigns of interest.
- Become a polling judge
- Engage in a community project (call or visit your village hall)
- Set up Biweekly or monthly Zoom meetings with friends (if you’re trying to avoid exposure to SARS-2)
- Take walks with friends and plan to sit outside for a while to talk afterward.
- Consider joining a bowling league with your friends (if physically capable)
- Join an animal or environmental activist group (e.g., Mercy for Animals, Climate Healers)
- Volunteer to help at a local animal shelter (but not if you have allergies)
- Join a committee of a foundation that serves your community (I have one for you in the south suburbs of Chicago. Use the contact section of this website to let me know)
The main point of this post was to highlight another pillar for achieving better physical, mental and spiritual health. It’s not all about food, but a healthy meal plan helps. I hope I have convinced you of the importance of social energy and engagement.