The Scientific Reason You Should Get Drinks With Friends This Week

Find out the incredible effect a night out with friends can have for your brain.

June 6, 2017
friends happy hour
Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images

Adapted from Peak Performance

One of us (Steve) has tried numerous ways of expediting recovery in the athletes he coaches after intense training sessions, but by far the most effective is social interaction. That's right—Steve's secret isn't massage, compression, or cryotherapy. It's cultivating fun and laid-back environments where his athletes can hang out with each other. Following competitions or especially challenging practices, Steve more or less mandates his athletes attend team breakfasts, lunches, or movie/game nights. Fascinating new science backs him up.

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More: 6 Hacks to Boost Your Creativity & Brainpower

The ratio of the hormones testosterone to cortisol acts as a good indicator of systemic recovery (the higher this ratio, the better). A study out of Bangor University in the UK found this ratio was higher in athletes who went through their post-game analysis in a social environment with friends than in athletes who went through it in a neutral environment with strangers. What's more is that the group in the social environment actually performed better in competition a week later. The lead author on this study, Christian Cook, PhD, professor of physiology and elite performance at Bangor University, told us that "a friendly post-exercise setting—particularly being able to talk, joke, and debrief with other athletes—seems to help with recovery and future performance."

"The basic biology of feeling connected to others has profound effects on stress physiology. . . . It's pretty poetic that feeling connected to others literally fixes a broken heart."

When we shared this with Kelly McGonigal, PhD, she wasn't surprised. "The basic biology of feeling connected to others has profound effects on stress physiology," McGonigal told us. The positive effects of social connection include increasing heart rate variability (HRV), shifting the nervous system into recovery mode, and releasing hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. "What's even crazier," says McGonigal, "is that oxytocin helps your heart repair. It's pretty poetic that feeling connected to others literally fixes a broken heart." 

 

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Although you can use social recovery throughout the day, it's only effective if the environment is relaxed. Going to coffee with a colleague only to discuss work won't do you much good. That's why we recommend this strategy for the end of your workday. But that doesn't mean it's easy. When we are feeling stressed, often our natural inclination is to retreat inward and wall ourselves off from the outside world. In the worst cases, the stress lingers and grows and we put ourselves at risk for a vicious cycle of rumination: Just ask an athlete who finished an intense training session and isn't feeling so good about it; an artist who got nothing done at the studio; or a businessperson who had a rough day at the office. Even though we may not always want to be sociable, the benefits of surrounding ourselves with friends and kicking back are enormous, especially following demanding situations.

Yes, that's right, we just provided you with the scientific basis for getting drinks with friends. (Note: We did not say "happy hour." Happy hour tends to be a time when people who work together go out to commiserate about work. As such, far too often these hours are generally not very happy. Go hang out with your friends instead.) 

Find more tips for creating your own success in Peak Performance, and learn how to enhance your performance by optimally alternating between periods of intense work and rest; prime your body and mind for enhanced productivity; and develop and harness the power of a self-transcending purpose.