The research is loud and clear — socialization as an older adult improves health and lets you live longer, too. “If you stay connected, you have a better shot,” writes Valerie Crooks, DSW, author of a study linking socialization to decreased health risks in older adults.
The National Institute on Aging suggests that there is a “strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults. Social isolation may have significant adverse effects.” Socialization can mean anything from saying hello to a stranger on the sidewalk, to spending time with friends or family members, to joining a walking group.
Socialization can drastically improve mental health, physical health, memory, and life span. Depression is unfortunately common among older adults, due to loneliness and isolation. Interactions with others can reduce depression symptoms and improve mood. Spending time with friends, loved ones, or even acquaintances makes people happier. Social connections can also lead to reduced stress, which can have positive effects on health.
Exercise has many known health benefits and older adults are more likely to be active if they are socially connected. Increased activity can lower blood pressure, reduce risks of cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, and arthritis, and also boost the immune system.
Studies show that social networks support can decrease the likelihood of dementia or cognitive impairments. Engagement keeps the mind active and stimulated.
Lastly, socialization can lead to a longer life. Developmental psychologist Susan Pinker, in her talk, discusses social integration or the interactions people have in their daily lives. These connections are not only with loved ones, but also the mail carrier, barista, stranger, and book club friends. “Those interactions are one of the strongest predictors of how long you’ll live,” noted Pinker.
Here are a few ideas to live a more connected life:
Join or start a special interest group and consider volunteering. This could include a book group, knitting club, or current events group.
Visit the local senior center. If you are enrolled in CHA’s Elder Service Plan, ask your care team about the Adult Day Health Center!
Engage in group exercise and wellness activities like Zumba, Chair Yoga, Qi Gong, and meditation.
Attend a psychotherapy or support group.
Visit friends and family or invite them to visit you.
Say hello and share a smile with strangers in your day-to-day life. Greet transportation drivers, postal staff, health care staff and providers, neighbors, and acquaintances.
Do you know someone 55+ who needs extra support to stay healthy in their home and community? The Cambridge Health Alliance Elder Service Plan (ESP) provides the health care and social supports older adults need. Visit www.challiance.org/esp or call 617-575-5850 and ask for a member of the Enrollment Team to learn more.