Despite our society being more technologically advanced and connected than ever, studies show that people as a whole are experiencing loneliness at higher rates. This is especially true for the senior population, with 43% of those over the age of sixty-five regularly feeling lonely. With age comes a shrinking social circle as friends move away or pass on, work associations fade after retirement, and mobility or health issues make leaving home more difficult. The issue here for seniors experiencing loneliness isn’t only emotional; healthcare experts point to significant and potentially serious health problems that can result from elder isolation, including depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cognitive decline, and even premature death.
Engaging in regular social interaction has been shown to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of senior citizens. Here are some of the best reasons for seniors to stay socially active:
Physical Fitness. A recent study of 300 adults over the age of 65 showed that those with a varied social life spent more time moving and less time being sedentary. This is good news considering the many benefits associated with being physically active.
Lower Risk of Dementia. There’s been significant research done on this topic, all pointing to varying degrees of cognitive benefit. One study saw socially active seniors’ potential for cognitive decline reduced by as much as 70%. Another studied a group of people over 80, comparing their brain function to that of subjects in their 50s and 60s. Those over 80 who reported maintaining positive friendships were more often as cognitively sharp as the younger study participants.
Longer Life Span. Some statistics suggest that having meaningful relationships has an effect on one’s life span that is twice as strong as exercising. Loneliness can contribute to chronic stress, which, over time, will cause wear and tear on the body as well as the brain. Friendships provide meaning to our lives and provide a support system to rely on when times get hard. Both of these are factors in reducing stress and, indirectly, lengthen one’s life span.
Stronger Immune System. Social interactions have been shown to lower the negative emotions that can cause inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Those with strong friendships tend to have stronger immune systems and anti-inflammatory responses, which may benefit overall health.
New friendships can be made at local senior centers, senior living communities, book clubs, and exercise classes. For more ideas on how to seek out new friendships, visit Silver Sneakers.