While it has been generally known, recent research has confirmed that remaining engaged and socially active in the community in our older years keeps us healthy - mentally and physically. Cross-cultural evidence shows that older adults are able to maintain a fairly high level of physical and emotional wellbeing when they have something considered valuable by others in their society.
On the physical and psychological level, there are many studies showing social connections are good for our physical and emotional health while social isolation can put a person at risk for cardiovascular disease, poor physical health and depression. People who stay socially active, generally have lower blood pressure and potentially reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
This reduced risk is a happy by-product of being physically active since when we are socially engaged we tend to get higher levels of physical activity. It also helps that socially engaged older adults tend to be more motivated to maintain their health as compared to their less-engaged peers.
Hence, you can see that maintaining a reasonable level of social activity is vital for seniors’ health and mental well-being.
Research author Dr. Patricia A. Thomas concluded that “Even if older adults weren’t socially active when they were younger, when they increase social activity later in life, it can still reduce physical and cognitive health issues.” (1)
Having a sense of purpose and something to offer helps older adults to feel more satisfied and to live a fuller life. Look around at all those who are truly ageing joyfully and they will all have one thing in common – they will be actively involved in the community in one way or another, whether it be continuing in paid employment long past the ‘official’ retirement age, volunteering in schools, hospitals, aged care homes and the like, pursuing their own projects or if they are less mobile, connecting with family, friends and the broader community on one of the social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram.
Volunteer activities can bring new meaning to the lives of men and women in midlife and beyond by allowing them not only to perform useful services but also to function as mentors for those who are younger. Older adults can also participate by helping to care for the young, like their grandchildren, or continuing to be involved in paid labour. (2)
As Elizabeth shares in the article titled Is Retirement Really All It Is Cracked Up To Be?, “Coming out of retirement and volunteering is one of the wisest choices, if not the wisest choice, I have made during my lifetime, which has resulted in me living a very joyful and fulfilled final stage of my life”.
Staying socially activeand maintaining our relationships are a crucial part of ageing healthily. If we stay actively engaged in some way until our last breath, our elder years can be a time of new learning, new experiences and new beginnings, a time to reflect on our life and how the choices we have made in the past have made us who we are today.
It is also a time to appreciate the wisdom we have gained through our life experiences and to share this with others. Elders can stay socially active in their communities with confidence knowing that their presence adds value for all age groups.
Anne McR., NSW Australia