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Socialize for Better Health

 
Summertime presents numerous opportunities to get together with family and friends, whether it’s a family or high school class reunion, wedding, or simply a neighborhood barbecue. These get-togethers are more than enjoyable ways to spend your time – they may actually improve your health! Many studies have shown that connecting with our fellow human beings – or even our animal friends – has numerous health benefits.
Our need for connection is innate. According to Matthew Lieberman, author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, “Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion. It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
Socialization is an important element to healthy aging. In one study of nearly 1500 retirees in Australia, researchers discovered that those with the most robust social lives were 22 percent less likely to die within 10 years compared to those who had fewer social contacts. Socializing may also be good for the mind. A study from the Rush University Memory and Aging Project concluded that a higher level of social engagement in old age is associated with better cognitive function. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who were socially active in their 50s and 60s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were more isolated. A recent study conducted at Brigham Young University demonstrated that “the effect of [social isolation and loneliness] is comparable to obesity.” Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad concluded that “we need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”
Of course, socializing can become more of a challenge as we grow older. Physical limitations, illness, and having friends pass away can all erode our social network. Here’s a few suggestions to ensure you remain socially active even as you age:
Make getting together with friends a priority
Just as with any health routine – whether it be an exercise program or a healthful diet – socializing is something you need to plan for, especially if you’re prone to isolation. So, call up a friend and invite them out for coffee or a movie. When you see a neighbor, invite them to stop over for dinner or dessert.
Be of service
Volunteering is a great way to meet new people who share a cause you believe in. Additionally, it gives people a sense of purpose, which is also good for your health. A study of over 9,000 Britons who averaged 65 years of age suggested that a sense of purpose could extend your life by as much as two years. Visit volunteer.gov to look for opportunities in your area.
 Go online
If getting out of the house is difficult, you can still connect with others online. A University of Exeter study concluded that adults aged 60 to 95 who received computer equipment and training “had heightened feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity, and showed improved cognitive capacity.”
 Get a pet
As we mentioned above, connection doesn’t have to be human-to-human to provide health benefits. A study published in Aging & Mental Health showed that older adults who were pet owners were 36 percent less likely than non-pet owners to describe feelings of loneliness. Walking a dog is also great exercise and provides even more opportunities for socialization – people are drawn to animals and you may be surprised how much attention your pet will bring.

Categories: Healthcare

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