How social media improves your brain health

I finally did it. After a decade of not really seeing the value in social media other than LinkedIn for personal use, I decided to join Facebook. I know, I’m rather late to the party and many of the ‘cool kids’ have moved on to other platforms, but I’m just one of many baby boomers who are finally embracing it.

And for good reason. Participating in social media could improve our memory and overall brain health.

Like many others in my age group, my initial resistance stemmed from personal beliefs – I thought it was a bit narcissistic, an invasion of privacy, and a time-waster. Did I really need to know every time one of my ‘friends’ went out for dinner, what they ate, how they liked it? Or see pics of their children’s dance recital or soccer game? Or read quotes or watch videos they found interesting? And did I want to share similar posts?  Who would care?

My resistance continued when I saw the addictive-like behaviour of people checking their various accounts (you know who you are!) and how that pulls them away from the present moment and the person standing right in front of them. As a professional communicator and coach, it has been frightening to watch as people abandoned ‘real’ conversations for the virtual world. But, that’s a topic for another post.

I think some of us hoped it was a fad that would just fade away or believed it was only a young person’s game. While it was initially (i.e. many social media platforms started on college campuses), more baby boomers have joined social media in the past five years than any other age group. Nearly half of internet users aged 50-64 use some form of social media now and 49 per cent have a Facebook account.

In a digital world, it allows us to stay connected to those we don’t see face-to-face or infrequently – like former colleagues or our grandchildren, promote our professional endeavours, link up with others with like-minded interests, stay current on news and events, and feel a part of a community.

Participating in social media could improve our memory and overall brain health.

A recent study out of the University of Exeter found an added bonus: cognitive improvement. The cognitive ability (i.e. memory, verbal fluency, orientation, attention, visio-spatial abilities and language) of study participants aged 60-95 who received three months of computer training including the use of Facebook, improved over time. There was no improvement in those without the training. The study also noted some improvement in the mental health and overall sense of well-being for those in the training group.

The results appear to align with research conducted by Dr. Sarah McKay and her key strategies for brain health and wellness, including keeping your brain mentally active and staying socially connected.

“We are born as social animals and have a fundamental need for human warmth and connection,” writes McKay. “Having supportive friends, family and social connections helps you live longer, happier and healthier. Socialising reduces the harmful effects of stress and requires many complex cognitive functions such as thinking, feeling, sensing, reasoning and intuition. Loneliness and social isolation have comparable impacts on health and survival as smoking.”

She advises: “Adults who regularly challenge their minds and stay mentally active throughout life have healthier brains and are less likely to develop dementia. It’s thought ongoing education and mentally challenging work build cognitive reserve (the capacity to cope better and keep working properly if any brain cells are damaged or die). Choose mentally challenging activities that you can practice regularly, that are reasonably complex and that take you out of your cognitive comfort zone. Try activities that combine mental, social and physical challenges.”

Turns out, joining Facebook could be one of the best things I’ve done for my brain. Who knew?




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