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Get social and stay fit, feel good

Are you a loner who keeps a strict watch over diet and exercises regularly? Well, get social, for that’s the way to stay healthy and fit, say researchers.

The quality of social life seems to impact our health and well-being even more than diet and exercise. There is mounting evidence to show that membership of a social group can cut down the risk of conditions like stroke, dementia and even the common cold.

These findings have been validated by the Universities of Exeter and Queensland, Australia, based on a review study of previous research, including their own, which links group membership with physical and mental health.

“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,” said Alex Haslam, professor at the University of Exeter.

“This is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be in order to lead rich and fulfilling lives. For this reason groups are central to mental functioning, health and well-being,” he said.

A 2008 study of stroke sufferers showed that being able to maintain valued group memberships played as important a role in positive recovery as an ability to overcome cognitive difficulties (problems with memory and language).

A 2009 study of residents entering a new care home showed that those who participated as a group in decisions bearing on the decoration of communal areas, used those areas 57 percent more over the next month and were much happier as a result, said an Exeter release.

Conversely, the use of space by residents in a control group declined by 60 percent. Moreover, these differences were still apparent three months later.

These findings appeared in the Scientific American Mind.

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