The Benefits of Joining a Social Group
Being part of a group or, better yet, lots of groups, can have amazing benefits for your health.
Looking after your social life may be even more important than a good diet and regular exercise when it comes to your health. An impressive body of evidence now shows that being a member of a variety of social groups is good for both your mental and physical health, and can even add years to your life.
The kind of group doesn't seem to matter—whether a family or friendship group, a church or community group, or a tennis or book club. What's important is that you identify with it, or see it as a meaningful part of your life.
Here are five good reasons to join at least one group today:
It can help you live longer
According to Harvard scientist Robert D. Putnam in his book Bowling Alone (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2000), "As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half." So powerful is the link between health and connection that those with poor social relationships are 50 per cent more likely to die than those with just "adequate" social relationships. But even just adequate ones provide a benefit on a par with quitting smoking.
The benefits of social ties are akin to those of exercise in maintaining health once you retire—and the number of groups you belong to play a part. In one study retirees belonging to two social groups had a 2 per cent risk of death, but the risk multiplied by six times if they lost touch with both groups.
It can protect your heart
Heart disease is generally lower for those who have social networks, according to American research, and the risk of death from heart disease diminishes if you belong to more than one social group.
It can cut your risk of a cold
Those belonging to a wide variety of different social groups—such as family, friendship, work, recreational or religious groups—are the least likely to come down with a cold, according to Pennsylvania research. The numbers in the groups don't matter; it's the diversity of relationships that are important. Six or more types of relationships cut the risk more than four times.
It can alleviate depression
The more social groups you belong to, the less likely you are to suffer from depression, according to an Australian study. And if you're already depressed, joining a group can help you recover and also reduce the risk of a relapse—by nearly a quarter if you join one group, by almost two-thirds if you join three. And if your group happens to be a religious one, you're less likely to have depressive symptoms and more likely to have feelings of wellbeing.
It motivates you to be healthy
Belonging to a social group makes for a healthier lifestyle; the greater the number of social groups you identify with, the healthier your behaviour in terms of diet, exercise, smoking or drinking. This could be because being part of a group enhances your sense of meaning in life, which in turns leads you to take better care of yourself. Or it could be down to feeling a sense of responsibility towards othersor even just wanting to fit in.