Sartre may have proclaimed, “Hell is other people,” but science and your brain beg to differ. If you’re a prisoner of war, for example, and your captors want to torture you further, they put you in solitary confinement. “Social isolation of otherwise healthy, well-functioning individuals,” a recent study notes, “eventually results in psychological and physical disintegration, and even death.” Cognitive health, too, is boosted through everyday interactions with others.
One way to combat isolation is to join a community or a senior center in your neighborhood. Often these centers have both daytime and/or nighttime programming that can bring you into immediate and direct contact with others, such as pottery classes, knitting circles, dance classes, swimming lessons, lectures, performances, volunteer opportunities, and book readings. In this way, not only will you be interacting with others, you’ll be doing key activities that boost your brain.
Take dance classes, for example, as many of these centers offer Zumba or step or even ballroom dancing lessons. Learning dance steps, with others, provides three of the six important boosts to cognitive health: social interaction, physical exercise, and intellectual engagement, as your brain has to remember and help your body perform each of the dance steps. Other community centers might offer you a way to help those in need, and a recent Johns Hopkins study showed an increase in brain function for those who volunteered and helped others. Meanwhile, learning a new skill in these community centers, such as pottery or knitting, similarly boosts cognitive function.