The Health Benefits of Staying Social

July 6, 2017

Healthy social seniorsIt’s National Social Wellness Month. Did you know being social improves your health? Here are some of the ways being around others is good for you.

As human beings, most of us are programmed to be social. That doesn’t change as we age either. That’s why, for seniors, staying social is crucial to good health.

In observance of National Social Wellness Month this July, let’s review the benefits of maintaining an active social life once you’ve hit retirement age and beyond.

A Social Life Helps Ward Off Feelings of Loneliness

Feeling isolated and alone is not only unpleasant; it’s bad for your health. And our seniors are more likely to experience isolation than other segments of the population.

Research has shown that older adults who are isolated are more likely to suffer higher blood pressure. They are also more susceptible to colds and the flu. On an even more serious level, isolation in seniors may cause higher mortality rates from heart disease, breast cancer, and a few other chronic diseases.

The depression and anxiety frequently caused by feeling socially isolated may also lead to bad habits.

Bad Habits that Result from Senior Isolation

A few of the most common negative behaviors that can result from isolation include:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking or drinking too much
  • Skipping meals
  • Abuse of medication
  • Forgetting to take medication
  • Alcohol dependency

Isolation Is a Public Health Issue

Isolation is more of a problem for seniors today than ever before in history. What’s more, the population is aging rapidly.

All of this points to a major public health issue on the rise. Seniors and their loved ones may have to become more proactive when it comes to finding social networks. Recognizing the link between aging, health, and maintaining a social life is the first step.

Why Staying Social Is So Important for Seniors

It turns out that social contact with other human beings actually creates a physiological response. When we mingle with others, even casually, our brains send neural messages to the body to reduce the production of stress hormones.

Inflammation, a byproduct of stress, is reduced as well.

These reactions happen during social interactions because the brain senses an improvement in your environment. You’re not experiencing feelings of isolation, so the body can relax its ‘fight-or-flight’ response.

So yes, the brain considers isolation a type of stress.

Seen in this light, seniors who stay social are warding off the negative physical side effects of loneliness and isolation. Consider it preventative medicine.

The Long-Term Effects of Stress

Over the course of a lifetime, we all experience stress. The body reacts with stress hormones and inflammation, as we’ve just learned. Our bodies can handle this in small doses for short periods of time. However, chronic stress and inflammation can add up over the years.

Researchers think that it could be precisely this type of long-term stress that contributes to many chronic conditions. What can we gather from this?

Prolonged social isolation may lead to chronic health problems.

One of the chronic conditions that researchers suspect may be linked to long-term stress is cancer. Crowning a lifetime of stress with a serious dose of isolation may be very detrimental to the physical health of seniors.

Staying Social May Help Prevent Cognitive Decline

There are other negative physiological changes that occur in the body as a result of isolation, too. Seniors who live alone and experience loneliness may be more prone to dementia.

Getting out and spending time with friends and family or joining clubs and community groups help the brain stay healthy. It keeps those neurons firing regularly, much like a workout for parts of the brain.

Stay Social and Be Healthy

For seniors, it isn’t always easy to maintain an active social life. Transportation issues, living far away from friends and mobility challenges can complicate getting out and about.

At Legacy Senior Living, our residents enjoy the company of friends every day in their communities. They may also choose to join regular social groups and participate in fun activities and outings. If you’d like to know more about life at our Legacy community, please contact us at any time to schedule a private tour.