Humans are social beings. Even those of us who enjoy alone time benefit from socializing now and then, and there is mounting evidence to suggest it has positive effects on mood and memory. Finding ways to consistently socialize is not only a good idea for entertainment, but is a healthy choice for seniors as well.
This is especially important for us as we get older, when preserving our memory and enjoying life becomes a top priority. However, for people with mobility issues, ones who are looking to avoid illness, or those who are simply uninterested in going out as the weather gets colder... you might have to get creative with the ways in which you socialize.
Socializing isn't always just about a pleasant chit-chat, though. Maintaining connections with friends and family is a great way to ensure you have a support system around you — people who not only boost your mood and mental well-being, but can be there for more practical concerns as well, like helping move furniture, deal with yard work, or assist with pet care.
Here’s what you need to know about keeping connections:
Why Having a Network of Support is a Good Idea for your Health
There’s a universal understanding that it’s a good idea to surround yourself with good people, be it family, friends, or neighbors. It’s much more common for people to gravitate towards a social network than to isolation, and there’s even research to back up why this is:
In the paper Social support network structure in older people: Underlying dimensions and association with psychological and physical health, by Jeannette Golden, Ronán M. Conroy & Brian A. Lawlor, they say:
“Higher levels of social engagement were significantly associated with a broad spectrum of health and wellbeing: reduced prevalences of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, physical impairment and cognitive impairment, and higher levels of all three quality of life measures.”
Put more simply, engaging socially is just plain good for you. The findings in this study also point to less obvious benefits too — seniors who were active socially actually experienced better physical health in addition to the mental and emotional benefits.
Even when life becomes busy, or making time to connect with folks can be a bit challenging, it’s important to remember that spending time with others is an essential part of good health. Framing it like this might be the extra boost of motivation you need.
Using Your Family and Friends for Support
There’s another benefit to maintaining a social network — practical support when you need it. Of course, you’ve probably got a family member or neighbor who’s there in a pinch if you need some help. But staying in touch with them regularly and incorporating them into your network makes help less of an obligation and more of a pleasure.
A big part of growing old is figuring out when to be independent, and when to ask for some help. In fact, a major component of overall life independence will be the support network you’ve built, and who can give you a hand when you need it.
There’s the physical aspect of course, too — whether it’s shoveling a snowy driveway or mowing the lawn, there are some tasks that are really not worth risking your health for. Having people you’ve kept friendly can be valuable in these circumstances, as they may actually want to jump in and help out, rather than view it as an obligation. Plus, it’s never a bad idea to have a few dollars handy for a young entrepreneur you’ve met in your neighborhood!
And while physical support is great, there’s even more of a benefit to having a network of support for you emotionally and mentally. This is where family and close friends come in. You can really develop deep trust with people you maintain relationships with over the years, and it can be a real boost to your well-being to connect with them, find out how they’re feeling and doing, and share the same about yourself. Having a network to care for and care about you is a key component to overall wellness as we get older.
How to Build and Maintain a Network
Especially these days, it can seem daunting to develop and maintain anything resembling a social network. However there are a few ways you can give yourself the opportunity to meet new people and stay connected to your family and friends.
Take advantage of technology: While there can be a bit of a learning curve to technology, investing some time into learning the platforms can make connecting with people easy and quick. There’s a number of free programs that will let you video chat with friends and family, swap photos, and share interesting news and articles. Technology can be a great way to keep up relationships, even ones separated by distance. There’s also an opportunity to ask for the help of a friend, family member, or younger relative to show you the ropes of the new tech you're using.
Consider adopting a pet: One of the more common ways people connect in their neighborhood is by walking their dogs. It’s also a great excuse to get some exercise while you meet and chat with the neighbors. Pet ownership isn’t for everyone, so make sure you do your research and talk to other seniors who have owned a similar pet to get a sense for what it’s like.
Connect with fellow hobbyists: Whether you enjoy cooking, playing an instrument, gardening, or crochet, you’d probably be surprised at how many people around you share similar interests. With the internet, it’s easier than ever to find groups that participate in your hobby of choice, which will help introduce you to like-minded folks. Even if you can’t meet in person these days, video chatting is still a great way to chat with people face-to-face.
Part of a healthy lifestyle in your senior years is finding ways to socialize and maintain relationships with friends and family. It’s good for your memory, mood, and even your physical health.
Finding creative ways to keep connected has never been easier than with the technology we now have access to. And for a connection you can count on, look out for your Heart to Home Meals delivery person — they absolutely love to stop for a chat!