Having strong social connections can be vital to your health as you age. This link between social connections and health has long been observed, and recent research has put scientific muscle behind the importance of human contact for your overall health. Multiple studies have shown that social connections can help you fight depression, keep your mind sharp and maybe even help you live longer.
Physical benefits from an active social life
It’s not just mental benefits, either; people with more social support tend to have better cardiovascular health and a stronger immune system. In fact, research from the Harvard Medical School Nurses’ Health Study suggests that social connections play a more important role in longevity than other well-known factors, including obesity, activity level, income level and smoking.
While researchers don’t know for sure what causes social connections to have such a dramatic positive benefit, many theorize that maintaining close connections lowers stress and increases positive emotions. People with lower stress produce less cortisol, a hormone that, in high amounts, can seriously damage your physical and mental health.
How to find social connection opportunities as you age
If you feel isolated, there are several ways to increase your social connections. Start by checking in with local resources. Many neighborhood and community organizations offer programs for seniors that emphasize making new friends and broadening social connections.
Volunteering is another way to expand your social network. Local groups often welcome older adults as volunteers.
To either join a senior group or find volunteering opportunities, try these organizations near your home:
- Churches. Your local church may provide seniors with meal preparation, rides or companionship. Depending on your needs, you can sign up to be on either end of this arrangement and make new social connections.
- Libraries. Local libraries typically have volunteer opportunities as well as interesting speakers and presentations that bring people together.
- Nonprofits. A food bank or other charitable organization will welcome your help.
- Community centers. You may discover a cross-generational program pairing seniors with teens that can be rewarding for all participants. Or, perhaps your community center needs volunteers to help with the gardening and upkeep at a local park.
- Art and recreation centers. Taking a class or joining a gym can forge new friendships.
- Museums. A museum may host coffee hours for seniors and give attendees a first look at new exhibits.
- Theaters. A local theater may be looking for seniors to fill posts as volunteer ushers.
Not only can these activities increase your social connections, but they can also teach you new skills and keep your brain sharp.
Technology can increase social connectivity, too
You also can increase your social connections by making use of technology.
- Use your phone or tablet to conduct video chats, which give you face-to-face time with friends and family who don’t live nearby. If you’re new to video chatting, your local library is sure to have classes on this form of communication. Imagine if your grandchildren could see you once a week instead of once every few months!
- Email and text regularly to help you feel connected to friends and family.
- Join a social network like Facebook, which has groups for people to discuss anything from a shared hobby or medical condition to a preferred lifestyle or political view.
Physical therapy to help maintain social connections
The more active you remain, the more you’ll be able to stay involved in your community. However, many seniors report that a fear of falling keeps them isolated in their homes. Additionally, many chronic pain conditions make it difficult for seniors to be as active as they’d like.
Gaining confidence in your balance, endurance, range of motion and strength can open the door to a broader range of social options. If you have physical concerns holding you back from making social connections, seeking the services of a physical therapist can be the key to giving you the confidence to check out that seniors’ walking group or dance class you’ve had your eye on.
Schedule a consultation today and see how Heather Lane Physical Therapy can help you meet your goals.
Evans, K. (September 14, 2018) Why Relationships Are the Secret to Healthy Aging, Great Good Magazine, UC Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_relationships_are_the_secret_to_healthy_aging