Naturally, we have a lot of healthy aging advice. Our company originated as Aging Wisely and today is known as EasyLiving, your experts in aging wisely. We’ve written thousands of posts and guides, both on the Aging Wisely site and here. Subscribe to make sure you always get our latest!
However, we wanted to distill things down into the most vital advice for healthy aging. This way, you know the essential things to focus on and don’t become overwhelmed. We’re all human. Thus, none of us will ever do all the right things for ourselves. But, if there’s one time we’d tell you to be sure not to fail at a healthy aging tip, it is…
Stay active and engaged in life for healthy aging.
Why is social engagement so important for healthy aging?
Of course, physical activity is good for your health. But, even more important is engaging in activities that stimulate your mind and keep you socially engaged.
According to one analysis, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder. It found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
Research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, poor sleep, anxiety, depression, accelerated cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.
If this evidence doesn’t make you take notice, we don’t know what will:
Researchers at the Florida State University College of Medicine found that loneliness is associated with a 40 percent increase in a person’s risk of dementia (The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, online 2018).
Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to have a sense of purpose. They live longer and show improved mood. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being. And, studies show this may thus improve cognitive function and physical health.
The Loneliness Epidemic
About 28% of older adults in the U.S., or 13.8 million people, live alone, according to a report by the Administration on Aging. However, many of them are not lonely or socially isolated. At the same time, some people feel lonely despite being surrounded by family and friends.
However, living alone is a risk factor for loneliness. People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are especially at risk.
How do loneliness and perceived social isolation affect health?
Scientists have been looking more closely at the effects of social isolation on the body to figure out why it is so detrimental to healthy aging. They are starting to find evidence at the cellular level. Loneliness may alter the tendency of cells in the immune system to promote inflammation. Though inflammation is necessary for healing, when it lasts too long, it increases the risk of chronic diseases. People who feel lonely may also have weakened immune cells that have trouble fighting off viruses and infectious diseases.
In summary, loneliness seems to lead to long-term “fight-or-flight” stress, which negatively affects immune system functioning. Simply put, people who feel lonely have less immunity and more inflammation than people who don’t.
Social Engagement for Healthy Aging
The researchers found that having a sense of mission and purpose in life is linked to healthier immune cells. Helping others through caregiving or volunteering also helps people feel less lonely.
Steps to Minimize Isolation and Promote Healthy Aging
- Get an SDOH screening. Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are economic and social factors that can have significant effects on morbidity, mortality, and quality of life. For example, elders who lack transportation may be socially isolated and also have less access to healthy food. An impoverished person might sacrifice taking vital medications or getting medical care. EasyLiving offers a free SDOH screening to clients. Contact us to schedule your screening.
- Additionally, poor health may be a risk factor for isolation, thus creating a vicious cycle. We often see elderly clients who have stopped going to activities due to feeling unwell. Or, they may worry about issues like falling or incontinence. They may stop driving due to failing eyesight or dizziness. Soon, they rarely leave the house. All of these things are socially isolating and create a sense of loss. Therefore, preventative care is essential. Get regular checkups, biannual dental exams, yearly eye exams, and screenings. Our care managers can help you coordinate care and manage appointments.
- Consider getting a comprehensive assessment to pinpoint problems and identify solutions. Sometimes the simplest adjustments to the home can help a person stay safe, healthy, and active. Seniors who don’t drive must have reliable, easy access to transportation.
- Check out some of our ideas in “Healthy Aging: Lessons from the Blue Zones”. We offer tips and resources for staying socially engaged. Seniors don’t need to sit at home in front of the TV all day, even when they have mobility issues. They can connect to others through technology. And, they can participate in activities with just a bit of planning. Our blog and newsletter offer lots of “senior-friendly activities” and tips for modifying activities. Let us know if you need help finding more ideas!
Ready to take the first step, or worried about someone you love?
Our experts in aging wisely are here to help.