Celebrating Los Muertos Keeps us Alive

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With it’s festive colors, tantalizing food, and Latin beat, Día de los Muertos beckons even the most weary of five-day-a-week workers to the dance floor. But besides the fun frivolity, new research from Scientific American is showing that joining friends for celebratory cheer may increase our brain function and steer us toward healthier living.

A fun night out with the neighbors, meeting a long-time friend to catch-up over lunch, or even taking a trip to visit a someone special all make contributions to good health. Socializing actually reduces inflammation in the body and can lower blood pressure which both increase the probability of a long and healthy life. And when our lives are abundant with work, kid activities or even trying to get enough sleep, these activities can seem intrusive and hard to schedule.

At the University of Chicago, psychologist Joe Cacioppo studies the concept of social isolation on our brain and our health. His research finds that both loneliness and isolation are remarkably associated with poor health – both mental and physical. Having nurturing relationships with others has a positive effect that combats depression and stress. In fact, another study conducted at Brigham-Young University found that an ample social circle is more important to our health than even exercise. BYU professors Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith report that having low social connections compares to other well-known risk factors such as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, alcoholism, and obesity. That said, find a friend to exercise with and you’ve done yourself two favors

Social activities that stimulate your brain also hamper memory loss but Dr. Sharon Arkin at the University of Arizona found that interacting with people younger than ourselves is especially beneficial. In Arkin’s psychiatric study, she runs a program designed to stabilize cognitive decline and improve the moods of Alzheimer’s patients. Her elder rehab methodology is to engage college students with her patients in exercise sessions. Not only do these interactions produce positive memory effects but they are also shown to reduce our perception of pain.

Feeling connected to others is essential for our well-being. Having a healthy social life is vital to our mental and physical health. So, let’s make an extra effort to stay connected. Invite a stay-at-home spouse or an elderly person down the street to join you for an evening out or a meal. You’ll be helping your own health as well as that of your guest.

How will you connect with others this week?

Related Post: Of Skeletons and Salsa

Related Post: Más de los Muertos

An animated film about a girl who visits the land of the Dead and discovers the true meaning of the Day

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35 Comments

  1. Good info! I’ve seen similar data. It’s easy to let Facebook / Twitter / blogging / gaming and other online activities replace actual face-to-face human interaction, but we do so physical, social, and mental peril.
    This week I will make it a point to walk to neighborhood chores and interact with people I would normally fly past in the car or bike. And at a music festival coming up this weekend who knows what might happen? :-)

    Reply
  2. Lisa H

     /  November 3, 2013

    Our neighborhood ends up having impromptu get-togethers this time of year. Young and old mingle out on the driveway or play catch in the street. Last weekend it progressed to a barbecue dinner. We ride that high for several days afterwards.
    I love Día de los Muertos, as it includes memories of our loved ones who have passed as we celebrate with those that are currently with us. Plus, the colors are so bold and beautiful.

    Reply
    • I love that both young and old mingle. That’s something that I feel is missing in my kids lives that I was very much accustomed to – we had lots of intergenerational gatherings. Today we don’t do that so much.

      Reply
  3. I have fun event on my list of things that I should do more, but it is at the bottom, perhaps after reading this, I need to move it higher on the list. Thanks for posting it.

    Reply
  4. I’ve been reading “Mind Over Medicine” by Dr Lissa Rankin (highly recommended) and she had a whole section ont he perils of loneliness. It got me to thinking – I think that was the root cause of my mom’s lifelong health challenges. I was going to lay around here tonight – but you know, I think I’ll head out and see if one of my friends is available for a visit!

    Reply
    • I will put that book on my list Diane. It’s a concept that I’m interested in learning more about. Hope you had a good day out.

      Reply
  5. I guess that’s why solitary confinement is known as one of the worst forms of torture. It’s good to remember that there are people living alone who could definitely do with an invite for a meal. I’ll have to be mindful of that xx

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  6. Good thoughts all Tammy. I love Day of the Dead stuff. I think my Mexican life must have been a good one, because inexplicably all things Mexican really fascinate and make me happy.

    Totally agree too about participating in real, live face to face community too. I’ve been craving real live pen pals over email & Facebook. Community is good for all that ails us as individuals and a culture, but I respect also some people are wired to be more solitary and have different needs and benefits from socialization.

    Reply
  7. Middle picture, second row from bottom . . . Frida Kahlo?

    I find myself chattering away to strangers when I am out shopping.

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  8. Thank you for sharing this! I love socializing so knowing its good for you makes me feel great :)

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  9. This makes completely sense to me! Humans are social beings. :) At the same time, I observe that socializing is often stressful for me as I’m very introvert and sensitive to noises, so I need a lot of quiet alone time (Peter is an exception, he’s like me and I like to have him around). Probably it’s key whether you feel lonely or not, and have a friend who is there if you need it.

    I love all the skeletons! By now I’ve also learned this tradition is from Mexico. :)

    Reply
    • Kath, you are exactly the person to figure this out! That’s my question. If you are a loner that doesn’t feel lonely, does it make a difference?

      Reply
      • No I think it doesn’t. :) However also for me it’s crucial to be and feel embedded in a social network, otherwise I get into the waters of depression. Face-toface coversation is important for me, too, but I’m not a fan of social gatherings and prefer one-to-one interactions or small groups. So at an event with many people, you’ll find me looking out for an interesting conversation partner and then withdrawing to a quiet corner for substantial exchange. What I find stressing about social gatherings is (1) the amount of conversations going on around me because I can’t help but overlisten them, which means I have a hard time focusing on the conversation I’m involved in myself and feel overwhelmed and tired very easily, and (2) the often found dominance of superficial or small talk topics. In the years before I was with Peter, it was ok to speak with my mom and close friends via phone or skype and see other people at the institute or during shopping without talking much with them not to feel isolated, but I’m much happier now to have Peter around for several hours every day. Often we both work or read, usually in two rooms next to each other, and have short interactions in between, and more together time in the evening.

        Reply
  10. I’m hosting a wine and cheese for the military spouses in my neighborhood this week. It’s a combination of needing an excuse to clean the house before my spouse redeploys and wanting to schedule an evening event to allow the working spouses and ones with little ones a chance to hang with others.
    And gluhwein. Always happy to have some gluhwein.

    Reply
  11. Wonderful post! Thanks, Tammy!

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    • You’re welcome. Do you see this as an issue on the island?

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      • We are a mainly Irish and Native American island, so we have serious – though different – traditions regarding the dead here, too. We just did Day of the Dead decorated skulls in after school art!
        But are you asking about sedentary lifestyle? That is probably as much an issue here as anywhere, yes. Unfortunately.

        Reply
        • No, not sedentary but more isolation and loneliness.

          Reply
          • Not so much as you’d think! Though we have only 400 year round residents, we are an inclusive community, with quite a bit going on. Certainly much more social activity than in other small towns I’ve lived in!

            Reply
  12. What a great post and reminder, on more than one level!
    Last week, I met some new friends, from Couchsurfing. They were visiting my city, and we went out a few times – had so much fun!
    As for this week, I’m going over to a friend’s place for her birthday, and am meeting up with another friend on Wednesday.
    Given I’m an introvert who loves nearly nothing more than being at home, this is quite a lot ;)

    Reply
  13. In the late nineties, I was in San Miguel de Allende Mexico over the Day of the Dead celebration and was enthralled with the colorful homages to those who have left this earthly plane, all the pageantry and vitality. Your post is a great reminder to be out in the world, connected to and interacting with people. Have fun, enjoy this life, now.

    Reply
    • I would love nothing more than to be in San Miguel de Allende over the Day of the Dead. You have just added an item to my bucket list!

      Reply
  14. Reminded me of trick or treating in my early childhood, which was at night, with parents taking their kids out and greeting neighbors with abundant good cheer (flashlights in hand). The perpetual motion of our lives now is truly a concern when it comes to relationships.

    Reply
    • Yes, trick or treat was incredibly social, wasn’t it. Sadly, I probably only have one year of it left.

      Reply
  15. It does. Been praying for the recent new Souls who perished in my home country as well as those struggling to survive.

    Reply

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