The quality of a person's social life could have an even greater impact than diet and exercise on their health and well-being. There is growing evidence that being a member of a social group can significantly reduce the risk of conditions like stroke, dementia and even the common cold.
New research by the Universities of Exeter and Queensland, Australia, shows that membership of social groups has a positive impact on health and well-being. The work highlights the importance of belonging to a range of social groups, of hanging onto social groups, and of building new social groups in dealing with life changes such as having a stroke and being diagnosed with dementia.
Writing in Scientific American Mind, the researchers from the Universities of Exeter, Queensland and Kansas review a number of previous studies, including many of their own, which identify a link between group membership and physical and mental health. Some more recent studies which support the same conclusion are presented by the Exeter-based researchers at the British Science Festival.
Commenting on this work, Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter, said: "We are social animals who live and have evolved to live in social groups. Membership of groups, from football teams to book clubs and voluntary societies, gives us a sense of social identity. This is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be in order to lead rich and fulfilling lives. For this reason groups are central to mental functioning, health and well-being".
These conclusions are based a number of recent studies which were reviewed in the article and presented at the Science Festival. These included:
Summarising this and other work in the article, Professor Jolanda Jetten from the University of Queensland commented: "New research shows just how important groups and social identity are to well-being. This is something that people often overlook in the rush to find medical solutions to problems associated with ageing, but it is time that these factors were taken much more seriously".
Dr Catherine Haslam of the University of Exeter, another of the works' co-authors, agrees: "On the basis of what is now a very large body of research we would urge the medical community to recognise the key role that participation in group life can play in protecting our mental and physical health. It's much cheaper than medication, with far fewer side effects, and is also much more enjoyable."
The above studies were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
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