Why personal friendships are better for your health than virtual ones

Why personal friendships are better for your health than virtual ones
Why personal friendships are better for your health than virtual ones

Studies suggest that meeting friends face-to-face improves health compared to virtual contact. (Illustrative image Infobae)

María Branyas, who at her 117 years He is the oldest known living person in the world. Landbelieves that one of the secrets of a long and healthy life lies in having “a good connection with others.” friends and the family”.

There are more and more studies that show that the “supercentenarian” could be right. It has long been known that people who enjoy quality friendships are in better health; The effect is so strong that it is comparable to the longevity benefit of following a Mediterranean diet.

But it’s not enough to have good friends and feel connected. Research suggests that for our health to truly thrive, we need to physically meet up with our friends on a regular basis.

A recent study analyzed data from almost 13,000 volunteers, examining not only their number of friends, but also whether they saw each other. Having face-to-face contact with friends at least once a week was a strong predictor of better physical and mental health. Calling or texting did not provide similar benefits, he says Eric Kimprofessor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study.

Data collected in a gerontological study carried out in Japan showed that men who spent little time with their friends – less than a couple of times a year – had a mortality risk 30% greater than those who enjoyed more frequent contact.

Loving and maintaining close relationships can reduce the risk of multiple serious diseases. (Illustrative image Infobae)

Although these studies only show an association – it could be that healthy people had more energy to spend time with their friends – the researchers believe that it is worth reflecting on the relationship between the friendships in person and better health.

The findings come at a time when more and more people are choosing to forgo traditional in-person socializing. According to data from the American Time Use Surveythe average time spent with friends decreased from 60 minutes a day in 2003 to just 34 minutes in 2019. “In the United States, there is a recession in friendship”says Kim.

Humans are animals socialand being around friendly others reduces our risk of coronary heart diseaseaccident cerebrovascular, type 2 diabetesAlzheimer’s disease and even cancer. “Whichever way you measure it, being more socially connected is associated with better health,” he says. Julianne Holt-Lunstada neuroscientist at Brigham Young University.

One of the reasons why friendship is so vital to health is quite simple. Friends, Kim says, “check up on people and encourage them to exercise or eat healthy.” They can also, she says, provide important information, such as “where can I get a flu shot?”

Studies have found that socially isolated people produce more cortisol throughout the day, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of overall mortality. “We are a social species, we are prepared to interact with others,” he says. Oliver Huxholddevelopmental psychologist at the German Center for Gerontology.

Weekly in-person gatherings with friends boost long-term mental and physical health. (Illustrative image Infobae)

The benefits of face-to-face interactions may be related to the smell. When our nose perceives other people’s body odor, for example, we tend to also perceive their emotions: from anxiety and fear to happiness.

In one experiment, researchers applied electrodes to the faces of volunteers and asked them to sniff sweat samples from people who had previously watched happy videos (“The jungle book“) or neutral (the weather forecast). After inhaling the body odor Of happy people, the volunteers’ facial muscles moved in a way that suggested they were also feeling happier.

Communication through body odor occurs mainly at the level subconsciousand as such can sometimes be more honest than words, says Jasper de Groot, a behavioral scientist at Radboud University in the Netherlands and author of the study. “It can help empathize with the other person,” he says.

This role of smells sensing the emotions of others, he says, may help explain why people with more sensitive noses tend to have larger circles of friends and suffer less from loneliness, two important predictors of health and longevity. . In one of the studies, researchers tested volunteers’ sense of smell with the test “Sniffin’ Sticks”.

Using a set of pen-shaped tubes containing various aromas and which are often used for olfactory tests, they found that those with the most sensitive noses also had larger social networks. The brain scans of the volunteers also suggested a relationship between olfactory sensitivity and the size of the social network.

Smell plays a crucial role in emotional perception and interpersonal connection according to studies. (Illustrative image Infobae)

Smell the body odor of a being darling can help reduce stress. When European researchers subjected a group of volunteers to weak electric shocks, those who were able to smell T-shirts previously worn by their romantic partners remained calmer, which was reflected in the electrical conductivity of their skin, an indicator of the stress.

We also sleep better when we can smell a pleasant body odor: simply putting our partner’s used T-shirt under the pillow makes people sleep more repairmanan effect comparable to taking a melatonin pill, says de Groot.

When we spend time with friends and relatives face to face, we may get on the same brain wave, literally. According to a 2023 study, as soon as we look into each other’s eyes, the neural activity in our brains can synchronize: In an electroencephalographic reading of two synchronized brains, the lines representing each person’s neural activity fluctuate up and down together.

This neural synchrony has been linked to greater kindness toward others, better communication, and cooperation. However, if we text or video chat, the neural synchrony between our brains almost disappears.

A 2024 review found that holding hands, hugs and other friendly skin-to-skin contact can also help us sleep better, as well as reduce stress. A daily dose of hugs improves the functioning of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, the stress pathway. It also reduces the levels of proinflammatory cytokines, molecules involved in the development of diabetes and heart disease. He kind touch It can also be a powerful pain reliever.

Daily hugs and gentle touches reduce stress and profoundly improve sleep according to recent studies. (Illustrative Image Infobae)

The tactile fibers C, a type of nerve fibers in human skin, respond to slow, stroking touches by sending signals to the brain that reduce the sensation of pain. These effects have been observed in both painful medical procedures and chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s. The relief, according to research, is immediate.

Face-to-face interactions can also influence immune health. A study carried out during coronavirus pandemicand based on an analysis of blood samples from 142 adults, revealed that meeting friends in person improves brain function. genes related to the immune system. Such benefits, however, did not materialize for those who only interacted with their friends online.

And even though we send text messages to our friends or send them photos via snapchat It is undoubtedly a way to maintain the relationship, for a deep connection we need something more than seeing the two-dimensional image of a friend on a screen. You also need other senses, like smell, says de Groot, even if you don’t realize it. “It makes a difference,” says de Groot.

(c) 2024, The Washington Post

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