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Get Healthy by Having Fun With Friends? Yes! See Why More Doctors Are Practicing Social Prescribing

From book clubs to line dancing, spending time with others boosts your memory, immunity and more

The traditional doctor’s visit is getting a makeover. There’s a new trend in medicine, and it doesn’t involve pills or supplements. Healthcare providers are “social prescribing” patients fun activities with other people to boost health and happiness. Here’s what to know about this new Rx and how it can help you, too.

What is social prescribing? 

Social prescribing is a healthcare approach that improves your mental and physical health by encouraging socialization. How does it work? Doctors and other healthcare providers identify social needs that might be affecting a patient’s well-being, such as loneliness, stress or lack of physical activity.

They then “prescribe” non-medical activities and resources in the community to connect patients with others. And it’s surprisingly effective. A report in BMC Health Services found that participants saw improvements in well-being, social connectedness and symptoms of anxiety. And in happy news, the researchers found connecting with others fostered a more positive view of people’s life, too. 

5 benefits of social prescribing

Ready to tap into the benefits of social prescribing? You can begin engaging with your community in a number of fun and inexpensive ways. “It’s important to choose an activity that is both enjoyable and engaging,” says Gary Small, MD, Chair of Psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center. So feel free to experiment and continue with whatever activities most motivate you.

1. Sharpen your memory in a book club

Whether you enjoy mysteries or romances, University of Illinois research shows that regularly diving into novels tunes up reading comprehension and language skills. This, in turn, improves your working memory (needed to juggle multiple piece of information at once) and episodic memory (helping you recall events in your life, like your wedding). 

And to make your memory even better, join a book club like those at BookClubs.com, your local library or neighborhood bookstore. University of Iowa scientists found that when folks 60 and over participated in group discussions where they shared perspectives and worked to come to conclusions (such as identifying important themes in a book), their memory became as sharp as it was when they were 10, 20, even 30 years younger!

“Reading books and having engaging conversations strengthens brain neural circuits that control memory and thinking,” says Dr. Small. “This not only boosts cognitive abilities, but lowers risk for future mental decline, too.”

2. Slash stress with group walking

A group of mature women walking outdoors while smiling and laughing
Ariel Skelley/Getty

Walking around your local mall, a nearby park or even your own neighborhood can be a great way to get your steps in. And now, researchers from the University of New England say that when you join a walking group, you’ll also experience a significant reduction in stress. While exercising by yourself dials down tension, doing it in a group lowers it even more thanks to the support you feel from others. And this holds true whether or not you chat with group members as you walk.

Dr. Small has seen the benefits of social exercise firsthand. “When my patients start walking regularly with friends, they report better mood and energy levels,” he notes. “Discussions while walking and talking provide mental exercise and strengthen brain networks, and empathic conversations can lower stress levels.” 

Not sure where to get started? You can join a mall walking group, which are organized by malls and local AARP chapters. Or simply search for a local walking group on MeetUp.

3. Ward off colds in a choir

If you enjoy belting out songs, create harmonies by joining other singers in a choir at your place of worship or community theater. Or you can find nearby karaoke nights at Yelp, or form your own band by looking for fellow singers at BandFinder

A study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine discovered that group singing increases your body’s level of the antibody secretory immunoglobulin-A inside your mouth and nose. This provides the first line of defense against invading colds and other viruses. Credit goes to the mood boost that group singing gives you. This enables your immune system to work more robustly.

4. Ease pain by dancing

smiling mature women practicing social prescribing in a group dance class in a studio
FatCamera/Getty

It may sound like strange advice, but if you’ve got aches, head to a club or class where you can join others in line dancing (find one at Everything Line Dance) or square dancing (find one at Live Lively Square Dance). Once you start moving, you’ll be feeling significantly less pain. 

Scientists at the University of Oxford in the UK discovered that following the same dance steps as everyone else in time to the beat of music playing increases the closeness you feel to folks around you. “Physical exercise from line dancing will elevate the body’s endorphin levels, which improves mood and increases pain thresholds,” adds Dr. Small.

5. Protect your heart with group gardening

Joining a community garden where you tend to plants alongside neighbors is more than just a fun way to share a favorite pastime with others. It’s also a true heart-saver! A study from Michigan State University shows that community gardeners eat significantly more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. This is due to a greater interest they take in growing their own food. 

And a review of studies by the Journal of American Heart Studies found that consuming more produce significantly reduces your risk of heart trouble and stroke. That’s thanks to their rich supply of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy.

What’s more, the physical act of “gardening provides an aerobic exertion that improves heart and brain circulation, which improves the normal function of these organs,” explains Dr. Small. To find a shared garden near you, search for “community garden” and your town. 


More ways spending time with others can improve your life:

Studies Prove Group Walking Is Even Better at Boosting Weight Loss — How Your Health Can Benefit

Hugs Have Been Study-Proven To Boost Immunity & Dramatically Lower Stress But Only If They Last *This* Long

How to Be a Better Friend + Make New Ones: Experts Share 6 Ways to Boost Your Bonds

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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