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Jun 16, 2009

Make Social Connections


Volunteer. Go to church. Join a club.


Whatever you do, do it with people. Communal activities are good for your physical and mental health, according to a study published in the March/April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

It makes sense, says C. David Jenkins, PhD, author of Building Better Health: A Handbook of Behavioral Change. He says social ties have many benefits, including:

* Providing information. You may think for instance your frequent nosebleeds, coughing, and sneezing episodes are trivial, but when a close friend or relative hears of it, he or she may encourage you to go to a doctor. If the symptoms turn out to be a serious condition, the social tie could have saved your life.
* Instrumental help. Friends and family can provide physical support in time of need. They may help with cooking, cleaning, running errands, doing grocery shopping, and driving to the doctor's office.
* Emotional support. Sharing a problem with a trusted person can help alleviate an internal burden. "It's a load off your chest," says Jenkins.
* Offering a sense of belonging. This feeling not only helps reinforce a person's identity, it also assists in preventing and overcoming depression and anxiety.

Community ties also help improve mental functioning, says Fleming. Group activities can help keep the mind active and maintain desirable levels of serotonin -- the brain chemical associated with mood. "Lack of social interaction will [decrease] serotonin levels," says Fleming.

Take Up a Hobby

Look up the word "hobby" in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and you will find the definition as "a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation."

Since they are relaxing activities, hobbies are usually enjoyable. Some people find joy in craftwork, bird watching, sports, going to flea markets, walking in the park, or playing cards.

The joy may help people live healthier and recover better from illness. For one thing, taking part in hobbies can burn calories, more so than just sitting in front of the TV.

In a study of people who had undergone surgery, Jenkins found that people who were involved in hobbies before their operation had better recovery six months later, compared with people who did not have hobbies.

The participants with hobbies tended to have more drive and interest in things and other people, says Jenkins. "It was a more active orientation to life."

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