Research shows that we actually live better, and potentially longer, when we interact frequently with others—especially friends. According to a recent study from the University College London, friends—more than family—may make a significant difference in reducing risk of dementia later in life. The study results showed that 60-year-old people who visited with friends almost daily were 12 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who only saw one or two friends every few months.
While getting together with friends has the most significant impact, so does spending time with family, making new acquaintances and interacting with people in our community. When we engage with others, we reap multiple benefits. According to the National Institute on Aging, strong social engagement may lower your risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and more.
Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, is one of many researchers studying this premise. In one of his studies, more than 1,100 seniors without dementia at baseline were measured on their social activity levels and then tested periodically on their cognitive functioning over a 12-year period. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.
In another study, James looked at a cohort of older people free of dementia and measured social activity levels and disabilities. Findings showed that those with more frequent social activity maintained lower levels of disability in several areas. Even when statistically controlled for risk factors like smoking or a history of disease, they still found that those with high levels of social activity had 43 percent less disability and about half the rate of cognitive decline.
Other studies show similar results. The bottom line is, spending time with others, especially friends, can have a significant impact on our health, happiness and longevity. If you find your social network is shrinking, now is a good time to start shoring it up. Here are some suggestions on how to do so.
Fun ways to stay socially connected this needs to say it’s not always so easy or easier said than done
Although spending time with friends sounds like an enjoyable way to stay healthy and live longer, it’s not always easy to do. As we get older, our contacts and relationships tend to shrink. Friends move away. We retire and lose our business connections. Adult children become more involved in their lives and responsibilities.
Most of us will need to build new relationships, which could require stepping out of our comfort zones. And we’ll need to get comfortable with new, nontraditional ways to connect when issues like transportation, bad weather or, as in these past two years, a pandemic presents challenges.
Keeping strong social connections requires some effort, but as you can see by the research, it’s definitely worth doing! Below are some suggestions to help.
Exercise with others
It can be hard to motivate ourselves to work out, but when you do it with someone else, you motivate each other. So, ask a friend or neighbor to be your exercise buddy. Don’t know anyone who’s interested? Try taking an exercise class. Join a walking group. Play pickleball or some other group sport. You’ll meet others who like the same workout regime that you do, providing a number of potential exercise buddies as well as new friends. At McLean, you can choose from a variety of exercise classes, including yoga, fitness, balance and weight training—in person and virtually. Or join our walking group and enjoy the beautiful wooded trails on campus and hikes at our McLean Game Refuge.
If you don’t have one already, find a hobby you really enjoy and then seek out fellow enthusiasts. Love to read? Join a book club. Love to sing? Join a choir. Love to quilt? Join a quilting group. Photography, painting, fishing, stamp collecting, bridge, gardening, chess—whatever excites you, you’re sure to find a group locally or online of people who share your passion. At McLean, opportunities range from the Hooks and Needles (knitting group), golf foursomes at Hop Meadow Country Club and friendly games of strategy such as bridge, cribbage, mölkky and trivia to book clubs, discussion groups and more.
Take a class
Learn something new, enhance a particular skill and meet people who share your interests. You can generally find classes and lectures at art studios, colleges, senior centers, recreation centers, libraries—and McLean. Our residents enjoy a range of interesting lectures and fun classes, including music appreciation, brain fitness training software in our Sorenson Media and Technology Center, wildlife and horticulture programs, and painting, ceramics and crafts classes, just to name a few.
Take a dance class
Don’t skip over this one! You may have two left feet, but that’s okay. You’re not entering a competition, it’s just for fun—and several great health benefits. Learning a dance combines physical, cognitive and social benefits all into one activity.
Join a cause and get involved in your community. Volunteering not only provides social engagement, often on an intergenerational level, but also it provides a sense of purpose and the fulfilling feeling of giving back. Residents at McLean share an altruistic nature and volunteer both on and off campus.
Invite people to join you for lunch or dinner. Not in to cooking? Get take-out or go out to a restaurant. Whether it’s with family, friends or neighbors, sharing a meal is a wonderful way to socialize. McLean has several dining venues, and new ones are opening in the Goodrich expansion. Our delicious, chef-crafted selections and farm-to-table ingredients are only topped by the pleasure of experiencing good cheer with friends. Although quiet during the pandemic, community dining is now carefully re-opening with a watchful eye on safety and will soon be humming with conversations and laughter again.
Even without a pandemic, there will still be times when in-person get-togethers are not possible. Fortunately, today multiple platforms can channel social interaction. When you understand how to use them safely, technology empowers you to stay connected with your family and friends. Group video chats have never been easier to set up, enabling you to see each other’s faces and connect visually. It’s also a fun way to meet people from around the world. Share interests, thoughts, opinions, tips and advice with people of similar and different backgrounds.
Plan cyber game nights
Popular board games have gone virtual! Classics like Monopoly, Scattergories and Scrabble can now be played together online, and there are a host of sites with card games, trivia and other fun activities. Game nights are a great way to bring family and friends together, plus they’re fun!
Join group excursions
Experiences are usually more enjoyable when shared, and joining planned excursions provides opportunities to form new relationships with those in the group. Plus, all the details are generally planned for you, making the experience easier and stress free. McLean residents frequently go on outings together, including shopping, theater performances, cultural attractions, community events and more.
Join a faith-based organization
This enables you to deepen your spirituality, meet and engage with others, and participate in volunteer activities.
Become pen pals
Writing letters has definitely become a lost art, but remember how exciting it was to get a letter … in your mailbox?! Consider connecting with friends or family the old-fashioned way—through the post office. (Imagine your grandchild’s surprise to receive a letter in the mail.) Send updates—anecdotes, photos, news clippings, whatever you think of—and encourage the recipient to reply. Letters also capture memories and are fun to save and revisit later.
There are many ways to stay connected, so explore what works best for you and start building your social capital. The dividends could be a healthier, happier, longer life!
At McLean, it’s easy to build social relationships. Here, we focus on delivering the ultimate in senior health and total well-being. Our Boundless Wellness program ensures endless choices and opportunities to enrich the human spirit and embrace each new day. Learn more about the Boundless lifestyle of McLean. Call 860-658-3786 or complete this form and one of our team members will be in touch shortly.