Community engagement and social interaction are important as we age. There are a few things we know we need: ample activity, for example, and a healthy diet that can counteract some age-related changes to the body. Recent research has found that maintaining meaningful relationships and spending time as part of a community is essential to the mental and physical well-being of older adults.
Let’s examine how you can start to rekindle a sense of community after the long, COVID-induced hiatus that caused limited if any social interaction.
Why Social Engagements Matter so Much
When we talk about aging, many of us like to throw an adage around: “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Typically, we’re talking about physical fitness when we say this. If you don’t build muscle, the muscle deteriorates. If you don’t strength train to build bone density, it wanes. If you don’t stay fit, you wind up sedentary. And it’s true. But the adage goes deeper than that.
In recent years, science has found that as you age if you don’t maintain social interaction you are at increased risk of several dangerous conditions, including loneliness, depression, and a sedentary lifestyle.
As it stands now, nearly one-third of seniors live alone. This solitary lifestyle creates a condition called senior isolation, which is just as common as it is dangerous. As of June 2020, 56% of older individuals reported feeling isolated.
Over time, this loneliness can lead to stress, increases in blood pressure, and unhealthy habits. In recent years, scientists have also found convincing links between a lack of social engagement and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
5 Benefits of Social Activities
Aside from decreasing feelings of loneliness and isolation, social engagements offer a variety of important benefits. Here are a few of the largest:
- Improved Mental Health – According to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), social isolation is a key trigger for mental illness. Seniors who lack social interaction are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. On the contrary, seniors with supportive relationships with families, friends, and neighbors have significantly better mental health outcomes.
- Improved Physical Health – Just like increased social interactions boost mental health, they also improve physical health. Specifically, social interaction helps lower blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular issues, and promotes a longer lifespan. According to a 2001 study conducted on Seniors in Sweden, people who have strong social bonds enjoy decreased mortality rates and longer, healthier lives.
- Decreased Risk of Cognitive Decline – Social engagements have neuroprotective benefits. Put another way, older adults with strong social connections and an active position in their community have a reduced risk of dementia and cognitive impairment. According to a 2007 study conducted in California: Of 2,249 California women, those with larger social networks were 26% less likely to develop dementia, compared to the participants with smaller social circles. One interesting thing researchers uncovered is that the size and frequency of the network matter. People with larger social circles who see those social circles more frequently are better off than people with smaller social circles.
- Increased Safety – Older adults with strong social networks are more likely to live safely. Not only do they have a network to call upon if they suffer a fall or accident, but they’ll be able to lean on their community of friends and acquaintances in case of a non-lethal situation like a mental health crisis or a period of stress.
- Better Personal Care – Finally, ample social engagements provide older adults with access to personal care and assistance. People who nurture relationships with others are more likely to take good care of themselves and to benefit from the accountability that comes with ongoing social interactions.
How to Generate More Social Activity: The Benefits of a Fitness Community
The great news about community engagement and social interaction is that both are flexible and fluid. Even if you don’t have a huge social network now, you can create one with just a little effort. Here are a few ways to get more involved, protect your health, and become more social:
- Reach Out To Your Existing Network – After a year spent navigating COVID, most of us are feeling pretty isolated and separated from the people who used to feel close to us. To start to counteract this, reach out to your existing network of friends, acquaintances, and family. Even a quick text or a phone call can go a long way toward rekindling relationships and paving a path to an in-person get-together before too long.
- Try New Things – Trying new things is a great way to meet new people and get involved in your community. If you feel safe doing so, attend a local outdoor event, show, or community betterment day. Take a class on a topic that interests you, or head to a store you’ve never visited before and browse the shelves. Even small things like these are a critical step toward building new social interactions and becoming comfortable with the idea of getting back out there.
- Join A Fitness Community – Want to kill a few birds with one stone? Join a fitness community. In addition to helping your body stay strong, a fitness community gives you a chance to meet new people, get involved in exciting new activities, and access new styles of fitness safely and without the risks of injury. Here at Alloy, we specialize in serving the active aging community and are uniquely equipped to provide a safe, engaging, fun learning environment.
See How Alloy Personal Training Creates Meaningful Social Interaction
Here at Alloy, we understand the importance of mental health in a person’s overall health and well-being. That’s why we focus on “whole person” fitness that incorporates small-group training. In addition to providing a great workout, these classes also provide social connections and a sense of community that’s important to keep you moving far into the future
Article by: Suzanne Robb
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