Being part of a group is ‘better than medicine’

Social groups can slow memory loss and the effects of ageing

Being part of a social group can be better for health and well-being, and can even provide better protection against memory loss and the effects of ageing, than many drugs and medicines, scientists said yesterday.

Studies have shown that when people feel part of a close-knit group they are less likely to suffer heart attacks, more able to cope with stress and better at retaining their memory, than people who become socially isolated.

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.’

A study followed 650 stroke patients over a period of five years, and found that those who were part of a close-knit social group were significantly less likely to suffer further problems over a given period of time.

‘Social isolation increased the incidence of a secondary, life-threatening event such as a heart attack. It doubled the risk after one year,’ Professor Haslam added.

The same effects was also seen in a study of fire-fighters who were asked to rate their sense of group cohesion. Firemen with strongest sense of being in a group were more resilient to stress.

Professor Haslam commented: ‘Identification with the team of firemen, a sense of ‘us’ as a unit, is absolutely critical to peoples’ resilience in those situations,’

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