Social Butterflies Live Longer Than Hermits

Active senior friends hanging out

Social butterflies live longer than hermits. That’s what scientists, researchers and any person over age 90 will tell you. Certainly, good habits like nutrition and exercise play a role in your longevity. But it appears that eating right and getting the old heart pumping will only take you so far.

A bevy of long-term research studies suggests that maintaining strong social connections with friends, family and members of your community is a key part to healthy aging. Moreover, these studies show that connecting with people doesn’t just help us survive health problems; the lack of a personal, active social network can actually cause your health to decline as you age. Consider this:

  • In a study of more than 2,000 California women published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers reported that senior women with larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with smaller social networks.

  • In a recent University of Chicago study of men and women age 50 to 68, those who scored highest on measures of loneliness also had higher blood pressure — as much as 30 points higher than non-lonely people. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.

  • Researchers estimate Medicare spends an average of $1,600 more a year for every older person with limited social connections than
    for those who are more socially active. That’s an estimated $6.7 billion in added Medicare
    spending each year.

Understanding how social connections affect our physiology is perhaps the best way to make sense of the data. Here’s one theory: Denise Park, a psychologist and director of the Productive Aging Laboratory at the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, said that social interaction forces your brain to stay focused in the same manner that brain games like crossword puzzles do. The more time your aging brain spends being mentally stimulated and socially engaged, the easier it is to perform the daily tasks necessary for more independent living.

Put simply, sitting home alone watching television isn’t a recipe for success if you want to enjoy the latter years of your life. Instead, keep your brain active by being socially active.

If the social statistics don’t impress you, then maybe seeing them in action will. Prevention.com recently featured a story about Downing Jett Kay who lives in Towson, Maryland. Her motto is, “Make new friends, but keep the old ones.” She stays busy with her church, attends a women’s organization and participates in a weekly group meeting to discuss current events.

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