The key to healthy ageing: Why social connections matter

Jun 08, 2023
Having an engaging social life linked to healthier ageing. Source: Getty

In a world dominated by technology and virtual interactions, the value of genuine human connection often fades into the background. However, as we enter the later stages of life, the importance of social bonds becomes more necessary than ever.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Toronto, a link has been established between social participation and successful ageing in individuals aged 60 and over.

The study revealed that those who actively engaged in volunteer work or recreational activities had a higher likelihood of maintaining excellent health over a span of three years.

What sets this study apart is its revised definition of successful ageing.

Unlike previous research, this definition includes individuals with non-disabling chronic conditions, broadening the scope of what is considered successful ageing.

Successful ageing, as defined by the researchers, means being free from serious physical, cognitive, mental, or emotional conditions that impede daily activities. It also involves having high levels of self-reported happiness, good physical health, and mental well-being.

The study involved 7,000 older adults who were already ageing successfully at the beginning. Its aim was to explore if social participation affected their ability to maintain their health.

The findings showed that among those who participated in volunteer work or recreational activities at the start, around 72 per cent continued to age successfully after three years.

On the other hand, only two-thirds of those who did not engage in such activities were able to maintain successful ageing.

Taking into account other sociodemographic factors, the results showed that those involved in recreational activities and volunteer or charity work had a 15 per cent to 17 per cent higher chance of maintaining their excellent health as they aged.

“Although the study’s observational nature prohibits the determination of causality, it makes intuitive sense that social activity is associated with successful aging,” the study’s first author, Mabel Ho, said.

“Being socially active is important no matter how old we are. Feeling connected and engaged can boost our mood, reduce our sense of loneliness and isolation, and improve our mental health and overall health.”

In addition, socialising can have a significant impact on the way we age. Regular and positive social interactions can keep seniors mentally stimulated, intellectually engaged, and mentally sharp.

According to Psychologist, Nancy Sokarno, ”Socialising with others helps to stimulate the brain and keep it active, which is important for maintaining cognitive function as we get older.”

“Social interaction provides us with a sense of belonging and connectedness to others, which in turn can help to improve our self-esteem and also reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. It also helps improve our mood and overall well-being,” she said.

When it comes to your senior social life, it’s all about doing what you love and what you’re physically able to do.

A fantastic way to socialise is by joining a social group or club that matches your interests. Whether it’s a book club, gardening group, dance group, or community service team, these groups offer a chance to meet new people who share your hobbies. You could also consider joining a volunteer group to make a difference in your community while making new friends.

Attending community events is another enjoyable way to socialise. These events provide opportunities to meet people and have a great time together. And why not try taking a class or course in something that interests you? It’s a wonderful way to meet like-minded individuals who share your passions.

Remember, the key is to focus on activities that bring you joy and suit your physical abilities. By embracing activities you love, you’ll have an amazing time socialising and forming meaningful connections in your senior years.

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