The Importance of Aging and Friendship

Forging new friendships during your golden years may require a little extra effort. It always seemed effortless to make friends when younger. Back then, it seemed like every social interaction ended with a new best friend. Then you go to college and/or into the workforce, and what seemed to come easy is now more difficult.

As you get older, common life changes such as the loss of a spouse, retirement and issues with health can take their toll on your social life and, by extension, your well-being. Loneliness has been linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline, dementia and depression. It also has been linked to heart disease, stroke and blood pressure. In fact, one 2015 study famously concluded that a lack of social connections was as damaging to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The conclusion? Friends are essential.

Just as loneliness can hurt our health, friendships can actually improve it in far-reaching (and sometimes surprising) ways. Studies have found socializing can strengthen the immune system. It can help us recover more quickly from illness, lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, sharpen memory and help us even get a better night’s sleep. Socializing can also improve our odds of living longer. According to one study, people with strong connections to family and friends have a 50% greater chance of outliving those with fewer social ties.

Nurturing friendships takes effort at any age. To keep yours in good order, it helps to make socializing part of your routine.  Regularly text or call friends to say you are thinking about them.  Set up the next get-together when on the first one and establish standing dates. Have lunch with a friend every three months or attend scheduled reunions.

Volunteering, taking a class, becoming involved in your faith community, exercising or joining a social group just for seniors are just a few ways to make friends.  Be patient as it may take a while to make these new connections, but they will happen. Try to always greet people with a smile. Be willing to chat, and pretty soon those chats may turn into longer conversations. People will get to know you and begin to like you, and you’ll begin to like them. And before you know it, you’ll have new friends and your new social community will feel more like home.

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of  Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina.  For over 14 years, Silver Connections has provided unique local events, travel opportunities, personal service, quality members and connections for age 55+, active and single adults.


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