Make Friends, Live Longer!

Mothers are often the ones coaxing their children to socialize and make friends with other children. Science is now proving that mother’s friendship-prodding may actually save your life one day. Establishing and maintaining social connections as you grow older helps both men and women stay healthier, age well and live longer.

The U.S. Harvard Women’s Health Watch in 2010 reported on a study that examined data from more than 309,000 people. The analysis found that those without satisfying family ties or social bonds with friends, neighbors or colleagues are 50 percent more likely to die prematurely. The mortality risk is comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

Researchers have long noted how social interaction affects mental and physical health. Going it alone is linked to depression, higher blood pressure and cognitive decline with age. Countering an isolated life with rewarding relationships does more than increase longevity.

Personal companionship is shown to:

• Boost the immune system.
• Improve cardiovascular health.
• Release stress-reducing hormones.
• Enhance nutrition and digestion.
• Regulate the body’s blood sugar level. • Lift self-esteem.
• Decrease the length of hospital stays.

A widespread Swedish study noted that people 75 and older who continue with meaningful connections to family and friends also exhibit reduced dementia risk. Overall, social support seems to help older adults have a better quality of life in general.

“Sharing your ups and downs with others lightens the load of daily living,” said Laura Greenway- Balnar. “We find this especially true with the older adults we serve. Many seniors struggle with the loss of a spouse, decreased mobility and a diminished outlook for the future. I am always encouraged to see how extending a kindness, a listening ear and caring friendship helps older loved ones stay happier and healthier.”

As scientists continue to investigate the health benefits for older adults who engage with others, the positive news is that cultivating your companionship circle is possible at any age. Consider these relationship-building tips:

  • Foster relationships that bring joy. Life is too short to surround yourself with negative or ill-tempered people. Bond more with people who truly make you smile.
  • Mentor someone. Thousands of people from young kids to older adults could benefit from coaching in reading or math to life skills and decision making. Your life experience is valuable.
  • Volunteer. Volunteers are needed for animal shelters, hospitals, libraries and schools.
  • Join group activities. Community clubs or local recreation centres offer enjoyable activities from museum and zoo tours to attending community events.
  • Invite others for coffee or a meal. Aim for a once-a-week gathering for coffee or a meal. Meet out, dine in or make a simple meal together.
  • Develop a solid rapport with grandchildren and younger adults. Learn about each other’s interests and enjoy fun activities together. Ask each other for help or advice (help with cooking, computers, falling in love, etc.).
  • Share family histories and photo albums. Take time to recall classic family adventures.
  • Put together a family photo album and make copies for everyone in the family (it makes a nice gift too!)
  • Include friends and family in everyday routines. Need to run errands? Invite along a companion. Routinely walk? Grab a partner. Common tasks and exercise sessions are typically more fun when shared with others.
  • Fall in love with a pet. Research shows pet companionship improves the physical health and mental well-being of older adults, even reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels and physician visits.

For those who cannot be present as a caregiver or regular companion to older loved ones, Laura recommends contacting a homecare organization to provide companionship services, such as playing games, assisting with meal preparation and errands. This type of homecare support can also keep you up to date on how your loved one is doing on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

Experts advise that having hundreds of social media and email friends does not ensure the same health benefits as engaging with others in regular, face-to-face contact. While it is fun to message and post away online, remember that a smile, a hug, a couple of laughs and conversation with another human – in person – may well clear your arteries, protect your memory and lengthen your longevity. So as you age, continue to engage well with others because doing so is a true lifesaver.

About the Author of this Blog Post:

Laura Greenway-Balnar is both Owner and President of Right at Home Canada in Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo. Right at Home Canada offers both non-medical and medical support to seniors and adults with disabilities who want to continue to live at home safely, comfortably and independently. For more information on Right at Home Canada, visit http://www.rightathomecanada.com/guelph or contact our local head office for the tri-city area at 1-844-2320-4663 (HOME) or by email at careguelph@rightathomecanada.com

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