Taking part in social activities means more than just having a good time with friends and family… it also helps us stay healthy! It seems that older adults who have cut back on social activities may be at increased risk of age-related diseases and death compared with more socially active counterparts.
A recent study suggests that a 66-year-old individual with a social activity score one point lower than average is the functional equivalent of a 71-year-old. The definition of “social activity” used in this study was quite broad; it included going to the restaurant, attending sporting events or religious services, playing bingo, travelling, visiting relatives and doing volunteer work. There was often a significant difference between seniors who were socially active and those who were solitary: for example, the most socially active participants generally walked faster than the others. As a result, socially active seniors ranked among the top 10 percent in walking speed, while those who avoided social activities were in the bottom 10 percent.
These findings were based on an observational study of 906 adults with an average age of 66. At the beginning of the period of observation, none of the participants had suffered a stroke, nor had they developed Parkinson’s disease or dementia. Their average activity score was 2.6 (ranging from 1.00 to 4.2).
It was no great surprise to note that women were more socially active than men, and that younger individuals were more active than those who were older. In addition, for each point below the average social activity score, the rate of decline in motor function was on average 33 percent faster. It was as if the less sociable seniors had the motor functions of someone five years older than them.
These results suggest that a wide range of leisure activities and regular opportunities to socialize are not futile among the elderly: in addition to contributing to their mental well-being, these activities may also have a positive impact on their overall health.