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Can We Talk? Why Socializing is Vital for Women’s Brains

Social interactions can have a positive effect on your mind and your mood

   

Connecting with friends is essential for good brain health. How essential? Socially isolated people are more likely to experience depression, poor physical health, memory issues and dementia than those who aren’t, says Emily Rogalski, professor and associate director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University. Social engagement can help maintain critical thinking skills and slow cognitive decline in later life, according to a Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) report on social connectedness. Interacting with others may also boost the prefrontal cortex — a region of the brain dedicated to executive function and problem-solving — and it provides the brain with a good mental workout.

“Social interaction is such a rich, complex and demanding process, it likely involves the whole brain very intensively,” says neuroscientist Riitta Hari, professor emerita at Aalto University in Finland.

Women may be better suted for maintaining those social interactions than men. Some research shows that women are better at recalling autobiographical information, words and stories, which may make it easier to connect.

“How we communicate, and how our brain processes information, is different” from men, says Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. There’s evidence that women have better verbal recall, she adds, and that continues as we age.

Social interaction may play an important role in brain health later in life: Older adults with good memories are more likely to have stronger social networks than age-matched peers whose memories aren’t as sharp, research shows. They may also possess more brain cells associated with social relationships, and those cells include a type called von Economo neurons (VENs), which are linked to healthy aging. “Our research shows that superagers have an abundance of VENs,” Rogalski says.

Want to feel less isolated? Even if friends are far away, you can stay in touch through long video conversations, short text messages or any other virtual communication. Some ways to boost the brain benefits include:

Laugh together

Laughing with friends can improve your mood and may help you feel closer to your pals, research shows. Hari’s work has found that social laughter increased opioid production in reward-related brain areas. “We think that social laughter can help people to maintain and strengthen social bonds,” she says.

Connect by video call

Looking your friend in the eye is more cognitively stimulating than a phone call, and it may help your conversation feel more intimate. “We know that a video activates the brain more strongly than do still pictures,” Hari says. “One has to anticipate, predict, what the other person is going to say next.” It’s like a three-legged race, she says: “Partners are bound to each other and have a common goal — here, to understand each other.”

Pick up the phone

Camera shy? Can’t figure out video calls? No problem. Phone calls are a good option, and the immediacy of a conversation may be more rewarding than social media interactions. “Think about how you can be connected with those in your life, whether it’s by phone or videoconference, whether it is by emails or letters,” Snyder says. “I think my kids have sent their grandparents more letters and pictures over the last few weeks than they have in their entire lives. There’s lots of different ways that we can be connected.”

Find a confidante

Keep a close circle of friends, family or neighbors that you trust. “It does not need to be a large group of people as long as those in it are important to you and you are important to them,” states the GCBH report. “Try to have at least one trustworthy and reliable confidante to communicate with routinely.” —Lisa Fields

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Membership Expires: Renew

Can We Talk? Why Socializing is Vital for Women’s Brains

Social interactions can have a positive effect on your mind and your mood

   

Connecting with friends is essential for good brain health. How essential? Socially isolated people are more likely to experience depression, poor physical health, memory issues and dementia than those who aren’t, says Emily Rogalski, professor and associate director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University. Social engagement can help maintain critical thinking skills and slow cognitive decline in later life, according to a Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) report on social connectedness. Interacting with others may also boost the prefrontal cortex — a region of the brain dedicated to executive function and problem-solving — and it provides the brain with a good mental workout.

“Social interaction is such a rich, complex and demanding process, it likely involves the whole brain very intensively,” says neuroscientist Riitta Hari, professor emerita at Aalto University in Finland.

Women may be better suted for maintaining those social interactions than men. Some research shows that women are better at recalling autobiographical information, words and stories, which may make it easier to connect.

“How we communicate, and how our brain processes information, is different” from men, says Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. There’s evidence that women have better verbal recall, she adds, and that continues as we age.

Social interaction may play an important role in brain health later in life: Older adults with good memories are more likely to have stronger social networks than age-matched peers whose memories aren’t as sharp, research shows. They may also possess more brain cells associated with social relationships, and those cells include a type called von Economo neurons (VENs), which are linked to healthy aging. “Our research shows that superagers have an abundance of VENs,” Rogalski says.

Want to feel less isolated? Even if friends are far away, you can stay in touch through long video conversations, short text messages or any other virtual communication. Some ways to boost the brain benefits include:

Laugh together

Laughing with friends can improve your mood and may help you feel closer to your pals, research shows. Hari’s work has found that social laughter increased opioid production in reward-related brain areas. “We think that social laughter can help people to maintain and strengthen social bonds,” she says.

Connect by video call

Looking your friend in the eye is more cognitively stimulating than a phone call, and it may help your conversation feel more intimate. “We know that a video activates the brain more strongly than do still pictures,” Hari says. “One has to anticipate, predict, what the other person is going to say next.” It’s like a three-legged race, she says: “Partners are bound to each other and have a common goal — here, to understand each other.”

Pick up the phone

Camera shy? Can’t figure out video calls? No problem. Phone calls are a good option, and the immediacy of a conversation may be more rewarding than social media interactions. “Think about how you can be connected with those in your life, whether it’s by phone or videoconference, whether it is by emails or letters,” Snyder says. “I think my kids have sent their grandparents more letters and pictures over the last few weeks than they have in their entire lives. There’s lots of different ways that we can be connected.”

Find a confidante

Keep a close circle of friends, family or neighbors that you trust. “It does not need to be a large group of people as long as those in it are important to you and you are important to them,” states the GCBH report. “Try to have at least one trustworthy and reliable confidante to communicate with routinely.” —Lisa Fields