Social Interaction and Physical Activity make a difference.
By: Maria Alejandra Pulgar
The population in the United States is getting older. According to the recent US Census, an estimate of 157.9 million Americans are 45 years of age and older, meaning that in the next two decades, the number of seniors will represent an important portion of the population.
However, these future seniors have several differences from previous generations: they are more educated; they have less children, many of them are childless; they plan to work beyond retirement age to supplement it; they are more racially diverse; and they have a longer life expectancy.
As people age, their social circles tend to shrink. In many cases, this is due to changes in living arrangements, as well as the loss of friends and family members. For many older adults, social isolation can become a serious problem, leading to physical and mental health problems.
To achieve the goal of a higher quality of life in the golden years and to continue being productive beyond their retirement age to provide for their own needs, older adults would have to take into consideration that focusing on the conservation of social interactions and the preservation of physical health are two important factors that can make a great difference in their future.
Importance of Social Interaction
Social interaction is essential for mental and emotional well-being, especially in older adults. It helps individuals feel connected to others, which can reduce feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Studies have shown that social interaction can also help to prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
Finding a hobby, keeping in touch with family and friends, attending social functions at community centers, etc., allow seniors to develop and maintain a sense of belonging and purpose. The Silver Club in the City of Doral is one of the most successful programs from the Parks and Recreation Department. Residents 55+ years old can register to attend a wide variety of activities for all interests and abilities, with convenient schedules and affordable prices. Lifelong friendships have formed within the Silver Club, and it has made a positive difference for many residents over the years.
Beyond the mental and emotional benefits, social interaction can also have a positive impact on the physical health in older adults. It has been shown to lower the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A study published in the Sage Journal of Applied Gerontology found that socially active older adults were more likely to engage in regular exercise, ate healthier and had better sleep patterns that those who were less involved in social interactions.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 20% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental or neurological disorders. Researchers found that social interaction is associated with better mental health outcomes, as it has shown to help prevent depression and suicide thoughts and to slow down cognitive decline, improving the overall quality of life of older adults. Family members or caregivers should monitor the level of social interaction of their loved ones and procure to intervene and support them timely to help them maintain their networks or create new ones as they age.
Physical Activity for a Long, Healthy life
It is the main recommendation of all doctors: lead a physically active life to maintain and improve your health in the long run. Physical activity is crucial for the well-being in older adults; staying active helps to prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, as well as improve balance, flexibility, and overall physical functioning. It is also associated with better cognitive, executive, and attention functions.
A 2019 study on longevity published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those who engaged in regular physical activity had a 30% lower risk of premature death compared to those who were inactive. A walk 30 minutes a day, every day, can make a difference in the long term, as well as muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week for adults aged 65 and over; however, the estimate is that only 28% meet these guidelines.
Waiting to reach 65 to begin taking care of their physical health is way too late. The future wellbeing for the millions of Americans currently aged 45 or more as they grow older will be greatly influenced by their present choices in terms of physical activity and social interactions. Getting informed and taking action will be the key for aging happier and healthier.