The Benefits of Being Social for Older Americans

The Benefits of Being Social for Older Americans

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA Brain Health, Cognitive Health, Communication, Family & Relationships, Hearing Health, Lifestyle & Leisure, Mental Health, Research, Tips & Tricks

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA
Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)

Social engagement is often identified as extremely important for children and their development. This emphasis on social interaction during early stages of identity development often overlooks the importance of remaining socially active as one continues to age. Social activity continues to shape who we are and who we are becoming as we are always learning, growing, and changing throughout our lives. A person’s social life has wide ranging impacts on physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

The connection between physical exercise and being healthy is well researched, documented, and emphasized for people as they age. Social activity and engagement can be just as important as exercise to your holistic healthcare. Social wellness encompasses how we interact with others and is the ability to build, nurture, and sustain healthy relationships. This happens by surrounding yourself with other people, engaging in activities, learning new things, and having fun!

Importance of Staying Socially Active

As older adults age, it is common to experience various changes that can be very challenging emotionally and physically. These changes can include:

  • Loss of a relative or spouse
  • Reduced abilities to be physically mobile
  • Difficulty managing tasks and responsibilities in daily life
  • Retirement and no longer having the same routine
  • Dealing with new medical conditions and medication
  • Frequently needing help and being less independent

Having these experiences for the first time often causes making major life adjustments. This means living in completely new ways, relating to the world differently, and having to deal with so much change. Understanding and coping with these new realities is really difficult and can cause loneliness, depression, isolation, boredom, and frustration. Being socially active can help older adults navigate these complex circumstances healthily and with more ease.

Benefits of Being Socially Engaged

Being socially active can significantly improve a person’s wellbeing and drastically help people be the happiest and healthiest they can be!  Having a thriving social life can:

  • Create Sense of Belonging: retirement, decreased availability of adult children, loss of a spouse etc. significantly changes the way (and with whom) a person spends their time. Being socially active helps people develop new relationships and support systems, creating purpose and making them feel more connected to the world.
  • Improve Mental Health: having healthy relationships with other people and staying connected to your community fosters a strong sense of identity and independence. This can lead to greater happiness, enjoyment, and sense of fulfillment.
  • Enhance Physical Health: participating in social (and physical) activities keeps the body energized and the brain stimulated as one learns and practices new skills. This can contribute to reducing the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis etc.

How to Have a Thriving Social Life

There are many ways you can become and remain socially active! There are several spaces that seek to create space for older adults to engage with one another such as recreational centers, gyms and schools. A few ways to be socially active include:

  • Become a Volunteer: spending your time helping others is incredibly motivating. Volunteering helps you be an active member of your community, connects you with people of other generations, and allows you to make a positive impact. Schools, community centers, museums, food banks, and animal shelters are usually in need of volunteers of all ages!
  • Join a club or group: if you have activities that you enjoy – reading, cooking, gardening, playing a sport – joining a club or group could be fun! This is a great way to meet new people who share similar interests and enjoy the same activities. This can also encourage you to keep participating in those activities.
  • Continue Learning: many community centers and colleges offer continuing education programs or courses for older adults. People are life-long learners and for older adults, this can keep you mentally stimulated. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about something that has always interested you or to develop new skills.
  • Join a Fitness Center: Gyms and community centers often offer fitness classes such as yoga, water aerobics, and group walks for older adults. This is a great way to remain physically healthy and meet other active adults.

Being socially engaged can drastically improve your overall health, happiness, and longevity!