The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete
physical, mental, and social well-being." As we age, there's
a tendency to focus solely on physical well-being, and that's a mistake.
In fact, studies have shown that social well-being can profoundly and
positively impact both physical and mental well-being.
In recognition of
July's designation as National Social Wellness Month, ATRIO Health Plans is emphasizing the importance—particularly for
seniors—of paying attention to their social well-being.
Isolation can Take a Physical Toll
Isolation—the lack of social contact—has been studied extensively.
Researchers have found that isolation is linked to negative health impacts,
- increased blood pressure;
- higher rates of colds and flu;
- heightened substance abuse;
- greater incidence of dementia and cognitive decline;
- higher mortality rates from breast cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
Socializing can Enhance Health
The negative health impacts of isolation are countered by the positive
health impacts of socializing. In fact, numerous research studies have
found a connection between social engagement and:
- improved thinking skills;
- slowed cognitive decline later in life;
- strengthened immune system;
- reduced depression;
- enhanced ability to sleep;
- increased productivity.
Achieving Social Wellness
Older adults who spend much of their time alone or with only one other
person, are urged to actively engage in building a social network. Consider
Take a class – Think of a subject that interests you—learning a new language
or perhaps mastering oil painting—the possibilities are virtually
endless. These types of classes are offered at community colleges and
often at area senior centers. Not only will taking a class boost cognitive
abilities, but interacting with classmates contributes significantly to
Join a group – There seemingly is a club or organization for just about any area of interest,
from religion to card games and travel—to cite just a few examples.
Joining a group offers the opportunity to expand your social network with
people who share your interest.
Volunteer – Volunteering is a multi-beneficial activity. For one, you're freely
sharing your time and talents and that's fulfilling. It's also
fulfilling to know that your efforts are helping others. Volunteering
regularly brings with it a sense of purpose and a calendar that isn't
empty. And interacting with others via volunteering is contributes significantly
to social wellness.
Reach out – If you're an older adult who is feeling isolated, chances are that
wasn't always the case. While it's wonderful to make new friends,
reconnecting with old friends or previously close family members can bring
great satisfaction to both parties. If you've been wondering how a
certain person has been doing, pick up the phone, write a letter, or—if
you're both on Facebook—send a private message. Reviving existing
relationships will assuredly enhance your social well-being.
Focus on the four-legged – Efforts to improve social wellness needn't be limited to only interacting
with humans. Scientific studies have shown that being a pet parent reduces
stress levels and can thus improve heart health. If you don't have
a furry friend, consider adopting one. If you already have a four-legged
housemate, perhaps the two of you need to take more walks or hang out
at the local dog park.
There's no better time then summery July to make strides toward social
wellness and its myriad benefits.