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When life gets busy, what’s the first thing you give up? Chances are, it’s not the things you HAVE to do… like your job and your errands. It’s the fun stuff — lunches with family, nights out with your loved ones, or quality time catching up with old friends.

And that makes sense… it’s easy to think of those social events as “extra.”

But it turns out, social time is actually JUST as important to your health as medical care.

You see, a 2012 study found that social isolation is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. In fact, people who are socially isolated live shorter lives than those with a robust social life.1

And people who stay social experience major boosts to their health, including:

  • Sharper memory and improved focus
  • Improved sleep and energy levels
  • Healthier body weights
  • Reduced risk of heart problems

So how can you avoid isolation? Well, everyone socializes differently… so there’s no universal “prescription” for staying social. But here are a few tips to help make it easier to make connections — so you can enjoy a long, full, happy life.

1. Make a Set Time to Reconnect

Set an alarm once a week (or more) for a time when you’ve got 20-30 minutes free. And when that alarm goes off, make it a point to call someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to.

Social isolation | Activated YouMaybe it’s the friend you fell out of touch with a few years ago… or the person you met in yoga class and would love to get to know better.

2. Volunteer

Not only is volunteering your time a great way to improve your community — it’s a way to connect with others too. So take a moment and look up volunteer opportunities in your area, either by searching online or asking at a local community center. There’s a volunteer opportunity for every interest and personality — so find something that speaks to you and your skills.

Consider reading stories to kids at a local library, coaching a youth sports team, cooking at a soup kitchen, or playing cards with seniors at a local assisted living facility. Or, if you’re an animal lover, consider spending some free time volunteering with animal rescue groups.

Whatever cause you feel passionate about, commit to spending at least an hour a week volunteering — and put yourself on the schedule ahead of time, so you know people are counting on you.

3. Get Healthy Together

Good health is contagious! If you surround yourself with healthy people, you’re likely to be healthier yourself. In fact, studies have shown that people with healthy friends:

  • Make healthier food choices
  • Tend to have leaner bodies
  • Exercise more frequently

Social isolation | Activated YouSo reach out to that super-active friend in your circle, and ask them if they’d like to set a regular workout date. It could be a regular workout class, like yoga or indoor cycling. Or you could keep it simple with a weekly walk around the neighborhood (or the mall, if the weather is bad).

If you don’t have the most active group of friends, look for a local exercise class or walking group — you may find new friends who are just as motivated to stay healthy as you are.

So if you feel yourself getting a little isolated, give any of these things a try. And keep in mind — social time should never be an afterthought. After all, it’s a key ingredient in the recipe for long term health — so treat it like exercise, a healthy diet, and medical care, and make it a priority.

1. Coyle C, Dugan E. Social Isolation, Loneliness and Health Among Older Adults. Journal of Aging and Health. 2012;24(8):1346-1363. doi:10.1177/0898264312460275.