We all know that a healthy diet and regular exercise is important. But as people age, many will neglect another important aspect of living a healthy lifestyle—their social well-being. Engaging often face-to-face with family, friends and those in your community is crucial to maintaining your health and vitality.
“Activity certainly helps promote healthy living in general for anybody, but as people get older, they tend to isolate themselves a little more,” said Julia D'Amora, D.O., a geriatric specialist at Carilion Clinic’s Center for Healthy Aging. “And once older people start to isolate themselves, things can start tumbling downhill a little more physically and mentally.”
Social interaction helps keep the brain active and sharp, which in turn will help ward off depression and anxiety and slow down the onset and progression of dementia.
“Picture your brain as a series of pathways, and each time you actively engage with someone you are building more and more pathways,” Dr. D’Amora explained. “When a person has dementia, these pathways will start to erode, but the more pathways you have to begin with, the longer you can stay sharp and maintain what you have.”
In addition, getting out of the house and engaging with others in various activities will help decrease the physical decline that many people face as they age.
“If you are not out moving around regularly, going up and down stairs for example, it will only be harder the next time you have to do it,” Dr. D’Amora noted. “Whereas, if you are getting out and doing something, you can keep the mobility you have and, in many cases, build up your mobility.”
The first step is to find an activity that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it, Dr. D’Amora said, you won’t stick with it. Many people found great satisfaction in their careers, so finding a meaningful volunteer activity can often help fill that void. Volunteering not only gives you a reason to get out of the house and stay connected with others, but you will also be providing a worthwhile service to your community.
If you have a way with children, become a classroom helper at a local school or pre-school. If four-legged, furry animals are more your style, volunteer to walk dogs at your local humane society or animal shelter. Deliver meals or become a companion to other seniors who are homebound. Consider volunteering at your local hospital. Carilion Clinic, for example, has volunteer opportunities within 30 different departments, so there is something for everyone.
Churches are also a great place to stay active within your community. Or, get more involved in an activity that you already enjoy by joining a local club that is focused on your favorite hobby. It is a great way to meet new people and establish relationships with those who have similar interests.
Looking for something a little more active? Join a health club or find a walking or hiking group. For social butterflies, the LOA’s Diner’s Club can be a great way to get out, meet new people and try different activities. If you have grandchildren or other young family members you would like to see more of, offer to babysit regularly. Chasing around after children is a great way to keep you physically active and improve your sense of well-being.
No matter what you do, just make time each week to meet and interact with others. It will not only improve your overall health and well-being, but it will help you get the most out of your life and stay independent longer.