As we age, the logistics of our life often change—we may retire, move to a new community and lose some dear friends and family to illness or relocation of their own. We might not have as many opportunities to socialize, but that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t make them.
In fact, there is ample research that shows the benefits of socializing and friendship. Let’s look at five of them:
- Maintain Physical Health and Mobility: Studies have shown that adults who have healthier social lives stay mobile for longer. Consider one study that looked at nearly 14,000 adults in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Those living in areas with greater social “capital” (or support and interaction) had significantly higher physical mobility than those who didn’t have that level of social capital.
- Support Cognitive Function: Another study looked at over 1100 seniors without dementia. Their social activity levels were measured and then they were tested periodically on their cognitive functioning, over a 12-year period. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than in those with low social activity. The researcher, Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, sums it up nicely,
“When you use your brain and body the way it was intended—as it evolved—you age better. We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another.”
- Enjoy a Longer Life: Social people live longer. Though scientists suspected this for a long time, it’s no longer a theory. According to ample research, “social isolation can have a very serious negative impact on your lifespan. Those with adequate or high social relationships–friends, family, neighbors or colleagues–were found to have a 50% greater likelihood of survival than their friendless counterparts. Turns out, social isolation may actually be one of the biggest risk factors for human mortality.” How bad is it? Researchers drew some common comparisons, saying that it’s as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic, never exercising, and two times worse than obesity.
- Boost Your Immune System: It’s true for anyone, but social interaction is known to boost the immune system. What exactly does that mean? It means that social people are better equipped to fight off illness and also ward off depression. This is especially helpful to seniors, who are often more susceptible to getting sick and down. This also relates to evidence that social interactions reduce the risk for certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
- Be More Emotionally Fulfilled: Some might argue, “What is the point in living longer if you aren’t enjoying quality of life?” All the benefits we’ve mentioned so far, are not just about being healthier, they are about being happier. And, they all contribute to emotional wellbeing. When our elderly have a place to be and people to see, they often feel a greater sense of purpose, are more stimulated, can continue to share their passions and grow emotionally. Plus, it just gets them “out of the house,” which is good for anyone.
If you, or someone you love is feeling isolated, it’s time to take action. We’ll talk about how in our next post.