Why Staying Socially Active as You Age Is Good for Your Health
Staying as healthy as possible as you age is a laudable and important objective. With that in mind, it is important to consider the different ways in which you can maintain the best health as you head towards your Golden Years. The fact is that staying socially active is one way in which you can work to enhance your overall health as you grow older.
There are a number of ways in which staying socially active as you age is good for your health. These include:
- Lowers risk of depression
- Lowers stress
- Slows progression of memory loss, dementia, other cognitive issues
- Encourages positive health seeking behavior
- Enhances mobility
- Boost immune system
- Live longer
After discussing these specific benefits of socializing as an older person, we make a note of importance for adult children of aging parents.
Lowers Risk of Depression
Depression is rather commonplace among people in their Golden Years. Older individuals report that they suffer from depression for a number of reasons including:
- Death of loved ones
- Health issues
Staying socially active has been show as effective in lowering the incidence of depression among older people – no matter the underlying cause of depression. Staying active and spending time with others lightens the proverbial emotional load in regard to depression arising from the loss of a loved one (including a spouse), health issues, and (especially) loneliness.
Socially active older people tend to experience less stress. Loneliness can make an older person experience higher levels of stress. Stress can impact a person’s health negatively in a variety of different ways. It can lead to high blood pressure, for example.
A research study looked closely at the impact of a lack of regular socialization by senior citizens and how it chemically alters their systems, resulting in putting them at higher risk of stress and associated illnesses. A lack of socializing on the part of older individuals can lead to loneliness and this added stress can significantly affect your NEM circuits.
The NEM response consists of six circuits that work together to fight stress. They are the Hormone, the Bioenergetics, the Detoxification, the Inflammation, the Neuroaffect, and the Cardionomic Circuits. Depending on which circuit is most affected, you’ll get different symptoms of stress.
Some of the negative effects are associated with the over-secretion of certain stress-related hormones. If you’re lonely, even when you’re relaxed, your overall perception of stress is much higher than those who are generally more sociable.
Over time, this added stress can build up leading to increased blood pressure and more inflammation throughout your body. In addition, your arteries may begin to erode and you may experience cognitive deficits associated with both learning and memory (which specifically is discussed elsewhere in this article).
Slows Progression of Memory Loss, Dementia, Other Cognitive Issues
Staying socially active as you grow older is also demonstrated to slow the progression of conditions that include:
- Memory loss
- Other cognitive issues
When a person is socially active in the latter years of their life, that human interaction tends to stimulate the brain. This happens in a number of different ways, including the mere fact that an individual is interacting with another. In addition, people who socialize tend to do things together. For example, they may see a movie, attend a play, visit a museum. These are all examples (among many) of activities that have the ability to stimulate a person’s mind.
Encourages Positive Health Seeking Behavior
The University of California at Berkeley reports on multiple studies undertaken by Yvonne Michael, an epidemiologist from the Drexel University School of Public Health. These studies examine the effects of social capital on seniors. To measure community social capital, thousands of individuals are asked to respond to questions designed to gauge the connections between health, behavior, and social capital.
One study undertaken by Michael and reported by the University of California at Berkeley concluded that socially active men and women have a higher incidence of positive health-seeking behavior. For example, these older individuals that interact socially demonstrate a higher rate of getting recommended cancer screenings. Socially active older people are also taking steps to get screened for other diseases and conditions as well.
Another study by Yvonne Michael reported by University of California at Berkeley indicates that socially active seniors have enhanced mobility as well. They tend to suffer less severe impediments to mobility. This likely is the case because social older individuals tend to get out and about more than those seniors who are not as socially active. The mere act of walking and being more physically active renders them less prone to conditions that can have a significant impact on mobility, according to this study.
Boost Immune System
One of the important, major health benefits for those who continue to socialize as they grow older is that it can boost the immune system. The more an individual isolates socially, the more that individual’s immune system will be weakened. This makes an older person more susceptible to catching colds, the flu, and possibly even cancer. Research demonstrates that socialization during the Golden Years can strengthen an individual’s immune system. Research also indicates that a person’s immune system can become stronger when they start to socialize again.
Yet another benefit of socializing during the Golden Years according to research conducted at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina is that it may actually help a person live longer. Loneliness and isolation are shown to have the opposite effect. According to research, being sociable may have even more of an impact on longevity than obesity, a major factor contributing to shorter life spans. People with fewer social connections were shown to have a 50 percent increase in their risk of fatality within the seven-year follow-up period (according to the reference research studies).
Adult Children and Their Older Parents
If you are the adult child of an aging parent, one of the best things you can do for your mother or father is to pay attention to his or her level of socialization. You should pay attention to how frequently your parent socializes with others. Moreover, you should take the time to engage socially with your parent as well.