Knitting with friends is good for you. Same with painting, playing cards, and RV’ing.
Readers of my columns know that I am an avid cyclist and have probably surmised that I don’t know a knitting needle from a chopstick. But I have recently become enthralled with the way active socializing of any sort can prevent disease and boost longevity.
Nearly every major medical research center in the country is involved in studies to better understand the connection between social activity and health, including Northwestern University which has conducted extensive research into “SuperAgers.”
For more than seven years, Northwestern researchers followed a group of people age 80 and older whose memory is at least as good as that of the average middle-age person. Even as the years passed, SuperAgers remained sharp as tacks.
A peek inside their brains found that the volume of the anterior cingulate, an area of the brain associated with emotion and attention, declines more slowly in SuperAgers than in a control group.
According to the researchers, “Perceived high-quality social relationships may be an important factor in the maintenance of cognitive function in the SuperAgers. The results add to a growing literature about the importance of social engagement and positive social connections as we age.”
The implications of this are fascinating to consider. While you should still exercise for cardiovascular health, weight management and strength benefits, strong relationships and a sense of togetherness can lead to healthier and longer lives.
That is not news to researchers out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which found that social networks are as important as exercise and diet across our lifespan. According to the researchers, “In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension.”
More harmful than diabetes! As an athlete, I had always assumed my health was tied directly to my exercise regimen. But I now understand that while the exercise does most of the heavy lifting, there is an additional boost I get from my social circles.
No, I’m not about to trade in my Cervelo for a tapestry loom, but the powerful connection between health and social activity definitely has me thinking about the importance of my friendships and social life.
So, while I might not join a knitting circle or painting club, now when you see me whizzing past on my bike, I likely won’t be riding alone.