Bottom Line? Friends are Essential
The fact that friendships improve physical and mental health isn’t news to John Moore, DO, an Aetna medical director and senior health specialist. During his 17 years of practice, he saw a marked difference in the health outcomes of older patients who were socially active compared to those who weren’t. The difference was very clear among people who had chronic conditions like diabetes or emphysema, and had to stick to a daily regimen of medications and healthy routines.
“Patients who were socially engaged tended to have better outcomes despite their medical conditions,” he says. “They could have diabetes, congestive heart failure, and still be doing better because of their improved mental health, their regular social activities, and their dedication to taking care of themselves.” Research supports his observations. Just as loneliness can hurt our health, friendships can actually improve it in far-reaching (and sometimes surprising) ways. Studies show that socializing can strengthen the immune system. It can help us recover more quickly from illness, lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, sharpen memory and help us even get a better night’s sleep. Socializing can also improve our odds of living longer.
Friends can strengthen our immune system, help us recover more quickly from illness, sharpen our memory and even help us live longer.
Making New Connections
When it comes to building a social circle, experts suggest finding people who are supportive and share your interests. Here are some good ways to meet new people:
Pitching in to help others isn’t just good for your community – it’s also a chance to get out of the house and enjoy face-to-face interaction.
#2: Take a Class
Whether you’ve always wanted to learn how to speak Italian or improve your piano playing skills, a class can give your brain a workout and introduce you to potential study buddies. You can frequently find classes by searching online for topics that interest you. If you’re not sure where to get started, check out local organizations such as the YMCA to see what kind of classes they provide.
#3: Get Moving
If joining a gym isn’t appealing, try an activity that will get you out of the house and moving around. Experts recommend seniors do aerobic exercise three times a week, ideally with a friend. Take a dance class, go bowling, play golf – do something where you’re having a good time and engaging with others.
#4: Get Involved
Get involved with your faith community. If you’re religious, check out events happening at your local place of worship. Many offer social gatherings designed specifically for seniors.
#5: Tap into Social Media
Websites like Facebook can help you find and reconnect with old friends.
#6: Get a Part-Time Job
(If you’re physically able.) Besides keeping your skills sharp, a gig can provide you with an important social outlet.
Keeping Friendships Alive
Nurturing friendships take effort at any age. Make regular texts or calls to friends to say you’re thinking about them.
Socializing is a top priority for another senior: After retiring to a town about a half-hour away from his family, friends have become his main source of support. He regularly has lunch or dinner with people from his old job, and occasionally vacations with a close friend or two. “Even though I depend a lot on myself,” he says, “sometimes I do need that friend to call me up and tell me to get my behind up and go outside, to be more active.”
“You know, I think if you’ve got one good friend in your life, you’re a blessed person,” he adds. “Because that person will be with you through thick and thin. They’ll say, ‘I’ll be there for you.’”
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