Friends certainly make life better – and they, and even acquaintances, might make life longer, too, new research suggests.
A wide, diverse social network keeps older adults more active and happier, both of which could help them live longer, according to the new University of Texas, Austin study.
As people grow old their lives have a tendency to become more sedentary and solitary.
But physical activity has been shown time and time again to preserve heart and over all health – key factors to a living well for longer.
The first-of-its-kind study found that seniors who interact with lots of different types of people – including friends, family, acquaintances, service providers and even strangers are more likely to be up, out, about and physically active.
Having more interactions with a diverse set of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers keeps seniors more active and healthy, a new University or Texas, Austin, study suggests
Aging is inevitable, but frailty can largely be prevented.
The US Surgeon General recommends that older people get moderate exercise, every day if at all possible.
Nearly 30,000 American adults over 65 die as a direct result of a fall in a year.
And even if they survive the fall, their risks of dementia and death increase in the aftermath.
But physical activity keeps bones and muscles stronger and helps to keep balance and stability intact longer, all of which helps older people to stay on their feet or sustain fewer injuries if they do fall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults over 65 get at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate-intensity exercise – via activities like brisk walking – per week.
But that’s easier said than done.
‘It is difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis,’ said Dr Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at UT Austin.
‘But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barrista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop.’
Social interactions themselves have health benefits, such as limiting stress and, more obviously, preventing loneliness, which we now know also increases the risk of death.
For optimal socialization benefits, however, seniors have to look beyond family time to activities outside of the house.
The UT Austin researchers monitored more than 300 seniors, logging their steps and physical activities using digital fitness monitors and quizzing them every three hours about what they’d been up to.
They found that it wasn’t just more social interactions that got seniors moving, but more different kinds of social interactions and activities.
‘Older adults may be able to be more sedentary with their close friends and family — sitting and watching TV or otherwise lounging at home,’ said Dr Fingerman.
‘But to engage with acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get up out of their chair to answer the door.’
The more time and the more types of people seniors saw and engaged with throughout the day, the more steps they took and exercise they got.
So, in a way, spending time with local acquaintances or even strangers goes further to help an over-65 stay active and healthy than sharing activities with family and close friends do.
‘The results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for activity levels and psychological well-being,’ said study co-author Dr Debra Umbrson, a professor of sociology at UT Austin.