Studies Connect Socializing With Quality Of Life

 The relationship between physical activity and vitality is well-documented, but multiple recent studies have also revealed an increasingly stronger link between social interaction and mental and physical well-being for those age 55+.

While socialization is critical for all people, regardless of age, those age 55+ can be more susceptible to isolation. Many have spent a considerable portion of their lives in the company of others – be it in the workplace or raising children or both.  For those age 55+, possibly being single, relocating, children leaving the house, retirement…..the opportunities for socialization often decrease.

Research has indicated that an active social lifestyle is more important than ever in helping maintain a sharp mind, remain connected to the world around them, increase feelings of happiness, and develop a sense of belonging.

Various studies have shown that socializing can produce the following positive effects:

Improved mental health: Symptoms of depression and memory problems are comon. In fact, approximately seven million people over the age of 60, experience symptoms of depression  and it is estimated that dementia touches at least one in seven people over age 70.  Having consistent human contact and interaction can reduce both, recent studies revealed.

One such study, appearing in the Annals of Family Medicine, gathered 193 mature adults with depressive symptoms and provided either individualized physical activity or social visits for six consecutive months. Researchers concluded that: “Social contact may be as effective as physical activity in improving mood and quality of life” and “social participation and social support networks are paramount to long-term positive outcomes and psychological well-being.’

Another study that appeared in The American Journal of Public Health demonstrated that those aged 50 to 60 who were socially active had slower rates of declining memory. “The working hypothesis is that social engagement is what makes you mentally engaged,” Lisa F. Berkman, the study’s senior author, told the NY Times. The American Academy of Neurology studied the relationship between dementia, stress, and socialization and found that “people who are socially active and not easily stressed may be less likely to develop dementia”. 

Improved nutrition: The need for proper nutrition is vital, but healthy habits can be difficult to maintain when eating alone.  Socializing with others and sharing a meal is a motivator for better food choices.  Noone likes to eat alone on a regular basis and often meals are skipped or are not sufficient in nutrition.    

Improved physical health: Multiple studies have also revealed that an active social life can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, and reduce physical pain that is reinforced by depression.

Strength in numbers: When it comes to socializing, the more the merrier. Those in large groups are more likely to encourage healthy habits among each other, including exercise, and there is always someone to talk to when you need support. 

How can those age 55+ stay socially connected?

While it’s comforting for mature adults to know they have family, sufficient social interaction includes participation or consistently engaging with others, the best being with peers.

Making that call or reaching out to join an organization can be difficult. It is often uncomfortable to step out of our current comfort zone.  It may take some gentle encouragement to get more socially involved, but the benefits of an active social lifestyle reach well into the future.

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Silver Connections provides numerous socializing opportunities through events and travel, quality members and new connections for age 55+, active and single adults.


The Importance Of Socializing And Friendship As We Age

 Socializing ranks right up there with diet and excercise on the “aging ladder” of importance. It’s been proven that those age 55+ who enjoy an active social life can extend their lives by years. Lack of socializing and friendships can lead to depression and even alcoholism, heart disease and cancer.  

There are an abundance of benefits for socializing other than life extension –stress reduction, a feeling of importance and high self esteem are just a few of the benefits. Keeping active also reduces the risk of mental diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Sometimes an individual must make the effort to become involved rather than waiting for someone to come to them. It can be especially difficult after being a part of a couple for many years and then being single again. Getting involved in the community or  joining a group can mean the difference in being depressed or enjoying a healthy mix of friendships and outside activities.  

Being around people who have the same interests especially help those age 55+  enjoy life even more. Laughing and creating new memories are the best medicine to keep from thinking and focusing on the negatives in life. Joining an activity that’s new or something challenging, is especially beneficial.

A new research study from Harvard University advocates that socializing for boomers and older has as much benefit as regular exercise. Feeling needed and helpful is extremely mind-lifting and can impact quite  positively an individual’s life.

It’s not surprising that as we age, socializing with others becomes more important than ever. We need contact with others who either share our interests and opinions or even have interests and opinions that are entirely new to us.

Remember the movie, Cast Away, when actor, Tom Hanks played a man alone on a desert island. He becomes so lonely that he creates a buddy by drawing a face on a ball he found. In the end, he mourned the loss of the ball much as we would a friend or family member. Deprived of socializing, we  feel isolated and alone.  But, having friends and  making those connections, can make all the difference in the world.

Laura Kay House, MA, is the founder and owner of Silver Connections, located in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Silver Connections promotes socializing opportunities for active, age 55+, single adults.

Older Adults, Loneliness And The Holidays

Although the holiday season is supposed to be a time of sharing joy and good tidings, very often people—especially those who are older—find that, as the season unfolds, they feel progressively disappointed, stressed and sad.

There are many influencing factors that can contribute to seniors being at particular risk of suffering from the “holiday blues,” including:

  • Reminders of past losses of significant loved ones–Many seniors have survived a number of their cherished friends and family members and these losses often take on greater significance during the holidays.
  • Sadness over the contrast between “then” and “now”—For many older people, the memories of holidays past so outshine present day celebrations they feel unable to focus on or experience pleasure in the “now.”
  • Unrealistic expectations—the holidays can bring a host of expectations, such as family togetherness, festive events and feelings of expanded happiness. Reality too often falls short of these expectations, which can cause an individual to plummet to new lows of sadness, feelings of loneliness and despair.
  • Spending the holidays alone—Some seniors live by themselves and/or at a distance from friends and family and spend much, if not all, of the holidays alone. Grown children often become busy with their own social obligations and may not realize how much their parents or grandparents look forward to sharing time during the holidays with them.

If You Are An Older Adult Feeling Lonely This Hoiliday Season:  

The following strategies can be useful in helping to get around potential sources of the “holiday blues”:

  • Adjust your expectations—For example, if you think the perfect family get-together won’t be a part of this year’s holidays, keeping this realistic assumption in mind can help you avoid frustration when and if something should go wrong or be less than desirable when your family gets together.
  • Limit predictable sources of stress—If you feel the annual trappings of shopping, decorating, cooking and attending social events risks becoming overwhelming and stressful, limit the activities you commit to.
  • Seek new, enjoyable ways of getting physical exercise—Exercising, for example, aerobics, walking, skiing, hiking, yoga, or swimming can help burn away a lot of stress as well as the extra calories of holiday meals.
  • Get together with friends and family members—As much as possible, share the holidays with friends and family members in person, as well by phone, e-mail, and mail. The holiday season is also a good time to contact someone you have not heard from for awhile. For those who have recently suffered the loss of someone especially close, spend time with special friends and family with whom you can reminisce and share stories and cherished memories about your loved one.
  • Join a social group—Feelings of loneliness and isolation can often be remedied by participating in activities with others. This can also help in opening up the potential for making new friends.
  • Engage in volunteer activity—Helping others is a pretty foolproof method of making the holidays feel more meaningful. There are many volunteer organizations that need extra help during this time of year.
  • Adopt a pet—Many have found that assuming the responsibility of caring for and loving a pet brings new joy and companionship into their lives.
  • Remember that life brings changes–As families change and grow, traditions often need to adapt to the new configurations. While you can hold onto certain family rituals, for instance, a certain holiday activity or preparing a long-cherished family recipe, some traditions, such as everyone gathering at your house, may not be possible this year. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing this year’s holiday season with the “good ol’ days.”

Though intense and unsettling, the holiday blues are usually short-lived and last a few weeks around the holidays.  The sadness usually subsides after the holiday season is over and the individual gets back to their normal routine. 

If you know of an older adult who is feeling sad this season, reach out to them.  You can help them to enjoy the present, reflect positively on the past, while encouraging them to stay connected to others. This may be the best gift you can offer them during the holidays.

Laura Kay House is the owner of  SILVER CONNECTIONS, a socializing group for single, active, age 55+ adults.  Numerous socializing opportunities are provided through local events and travel while stressing personal service and a sense of community within the membership.