Find your group, and the health benefits will follow
From the moment I started middle school through the end of my college career, I received one piece of advice more than any other: Get involved in groups.
The most obvious reason was that involvement in an organization or club was what “they” wanted to see. The “they” changed from college admissions officers, to internship coordinators, and finally prospective employers as I aged. As soon as that post-college job was secured and the diploma was in my hand, it's almost as if that advice came to screeching halt.
While I knew there would be social benefits to joining some sort of group once they weren't completely necessary to my academic or career aspirations, things started slowly getting in the way. I didn't have as much free time as I used to, and finding a group to join wasn't as easy as spotting a brightly colored poster in a hallway.
If you're in the same boat as I am, there's new research out this week in the journal BMC Psychology that should serve as a bit of a wake up call. While previous studies had shown the benefits of group involvement, little was known about these benefits on a longitudinal scale. British researchers set out to find how social engagement in groups affects people at various points in their lives.
The results show that individuals who got involved, and stayed involved, with civic and social groups such as neighborhood watch or volunteer organizations scored higher on cognitive tests once they reached middle age. Even more telling, those cognitive scores increased for each extra group an individual participated in.
There's a lesson here for everyone — especially working professionals. This isn't just kid stuff by any means.
While the study's findings are positive, I think the key here is balance. Nobody should run out and join five new civic groups on top of their career and personal lives; such an arrangement would probably add new stressors that would cancel out the positive aspects of group involvement.
But if your schedule allows, joining one new group could bring cognitive benefits as well as other health benefits that come with social engagement and community work. (You could even make it a New Year's resolution, since it's about that time of year again.) If your schedule is hectic, websites like Nextdoor and MeetUp can help take some of the guesswork out of finding a group that fits for you.
The results of this study could even apply to the residents in your facility. While the study didn't indicate how group involvement benefits brain health later in life, encouraging membership among residents in groups like a resident council may bring health benefits to them as well by lessening the effects of isolation and loneliness.
As the new year approaches, consider getting involved in a group or organization for the social and health benefits they provide. The perfect group for you, and the potential for improved brain health, is out there waiting.
Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.