University of Limerick researcher explains the health benefits of a good social life.

Competing at Researchfest for the second time in 2018, Daragh Bradshaw from University of Limerick took three minutes to tell us about his PhD research into how joining a meaningful group could cut your risk of death in half.

Social isolation is a killer that affects one in five people, Bradshaw explained. This is particularly pervasive at times of great change, such as pregnancy, retirement or starting a new job.

“It’s a gnawing, chronic disease that increases your risk of addiction, suicide, depression. It raises your heart rate, it lowers your immune system and it gradually wears your body down, increasing the likelihood of an early death by 45pc,” Bradshaw told the Inspirefest audience.

But there is hope! With social isolation being such a risk to health, maintaining a close network of friends and joining groups that add value and encourage healthy lifestyle choices can have as great an impact on your health as diet, exercise, smoking and medication.

The evidence that socialisation can positively impact on health is so powerful that healthcare practitioners are now developing interventions such as choir singing for patients with mental health issues or postnatal depression, or midnight running groups for families who have lost someone through suicide.

However, it won’t do to just sign up to any old group and remain disengaged. Bradshaw likened this to a friend who described being in a room full of people and feeling utterly alone.

As Bradshaw explained, we are social beings and it’s the groups we partake in that become part of our social identity. The right ones can give us a sense of meaning, purpose and control in the world. And, with that, we can be better equipped to tackle any health issue.

Words by Elaine Burke