Research has found that social support can play a significant role in overall health as people age. Spending time with friends and family members can boost quality of life, including both physical and mental health.
Throughout life, close friends provide a strong foundation of compassion and trust for many people, and they can become even more important as we age. June 8 is Best Friend Day, a time to recognize the contributions of friends to our live experience.
Why are good friends so important for older adults, and how can you make sure you have the social support you need as you age?
The Importance of ‘Social Capital’ for Seniors
“Social Capital” refers to the types of personal connections that build trust and support participation for individuals. Research indicates that social capital offers health benefits that may be especially important for seniors.
For retired people, social capital can decline due to reduced contact with former work colleagues, the deaths of friends and family members, and loved ones moving away. The loss of social contacts can have a direct impact on mental and physical well-being.
Social capital can encourage healthy behaviors, like walking around to visit neighbors, refraining from smoking, and seeking out health screenings after hearing about them from friends.
Potential Health Benefits of Staying Connected
For seniors, developing various positive sources of social support also can reduce stress, ward off anxiety and depression, and reduce the risk of some physical health concerns.
Experts say that certain types of social interactions can affect cognitive health. One study found that cognitive abilities declined 70 percent more slowly in individuals who had frequent social connections compared to those who had little social contact with others.
Socialization may improve memory and longevity as it reduces stress and isolation. Many seniors socialize by spending time in group exercise classes — which can provide a number of physical benefits, including the potential to increase lifespan. Exercise also lessens the risk of a variety of chronic health problems like osteoporosis.
Finding Sources of Social Support
Family members frequently provide social support for seniors, but that’s not always the case. For seniors who are widowed or live far from loved ones, finding other ways to socialize can be necessary.
As you get older, it’s important to take advantage of opportunities to meet people and develop relationships. Community groups like senior centers offer one source of friendships. In addition, senior living communities provide multiple opportunities for spending time around other people, including exercise classes, meals and a variety of activities. Another good way to get connected is to find an organization you are passionate about and volunteer.
Whatever option you choose for meeting people, pay attention to the breadth of your social connections as socialization will play an important role in your overall well-being as you age.