When you hit your sixties and seventies, there’s no shortage of friends and family who want to share their advice with you on how to improve your health and live longer. And a lot of it is probably good advice encouraging you to eat better, get some exercise and reduce your stress.
As it turns out, though, even when you get the right advice from your friends, research shows that it’s the friends that are doing the most to help you live longer, not the advice.
To be clear, you should absolutely be eating a healthy diet that’s low in sodium, walking or doing moderate exercise a couple of times a week, and keeping your stress level to a minimum. The science clearly backs that up. But studies also show that your level of social interaction and the depth of your social network does even more good for your health and longevity.
For example, it’s now known that seniors who are socially isolated are more likely to have problems with hypertension than diabetics. In fact, social isolation can be as much of a health risk as smoking or excessive drinking, and is even more of a risk factor than obesity. Social isolation has also been shown to weaken your immune system, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study, increasing the likelihood of many other health issues, including bacterial and viral infections.
What Can You Do About It?
These recent findings clearly point to the benefits of maintaining social connections as you age. And while that may sound simple, it’s not easy for everybody, especially as we become less able to move about. So here are a few things you can try:
- Follow the fun. Take a hard, inward look at what you enjoy doing and where your passions are, then find other people with the same interests. Having a hobby that involves other people helps keep you motivated and interested.
- Make the first move. Call your friends just to say, “hello” and invite them over for a cup of coffee or out to lunch. Don’t wait for people to call you because they may be a little uncomfortable about it too.
- Adopt a dog. In addition to the companionship they give you, walking a dog is good exercise. Plus, other people are more likely to start a conversation with you.
- Volunteer. Even if it’s only a couple of hours a week, volunteering at your church or with any non-profit organization is a great way to meet people while helping the community.
- Get over the fear of tech. Social contact via email, Skype and Facebook are easy ways to keep in touch with friends and relatives. Even talking or texting on the phone helps you feel connected.
How Socializing Helps
While the link between social connection and long-term health has been known for a while, how it helps has been somewhat of a puzzle. Recently, however, studies have started to explore the topic and revealed that an important factor might be how it affects the immune system. A recent study showed evidence that the brain is wired to perceive social isolation as a threat to one’s survival, raising your stress and weakening your immunities. This makes sense because, throughout most of human history, we could not survive without being part of a community.
The best part? Socializing as a form of preventive healthcare doesn’t cost that much, other than an occasional lunch with friends. So splurge a little on your health. You deserve it!top avana