Many of the factors that promote healthy aging are commonly known—exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep per night. These habits are important at every stage of life. For the seniors, however, friendships have a particularly important influence on healthy aging. As relationships evolve over time, having a strong, supportive circle of friends can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Staying connected with friends usually means more opportunities to socialize and more ways to stay involved with your community. This engagement can also increase the motivation to stay on track with health screenings and other self-care. All of these factors result in better overall physical and mental health.
In contrast, isolated seniors are more likely to live a sedentary life and are at greater risk for developing health problems. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression are just a few that are common among seniors who experience social isolation.
During this time of COVID-19, maintaining strong, social networks is more important than ever. As seniors spend more time at home with limited opportunities for social interaction, it is critical that meaningful connections remain.
Making Connections during COVID-19
While the usual activities of meeting for quilt club, going out to dinner, or attending large social events may not be possible, there are still many ways for seniors to maintain relationships with those they care about.
Consider utilizing social media to connect with friends and family or even join an online group that shares a mutual interest. While Instagram is a favorite among young adults, Facebook usage by seniors remains high. According to the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of those 50–64 and 46 percent of those over 65 use Facebook on a regular basis. Skype and Zoom offer another way to build relationships by offering face-to-face interaction via a tablet or computer. Many seniors report that these social media platforms provide important ways to remain engaged in the lives of their loved ones and even revive old friendships.
How Friends Influence Health
Surrounding yourself with friends who share your approach to healthy living is also important. If you practice healthy eating, for example, having friends who are healthy eaters as well will help you be mindful of your diet.
If your friends are heavy alcohol consumers, on the other hand, you are more likely to indulge with them. These negative habits are linked to increased rates of cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, and other potentially life-limiting illnesses.
Finally, connecting with friends who recognize the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic is important as well. Practicing social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing hands regularly are all ways to stay healthy. Having friends that support that viewpoint will make life easier and safer.
Rebuilding Social Networks
In later life, many seniors find their social circle decreasing for reasons beyond their control. A friend might retire and move away to live closer to family. Others retire and relocate to a warmer climate. Some older adults face the reality of friends passing away.
These losses require seniors to find new avenues for meeting people and rebuilding their social circle. Doing this during a global pandemic can be challenging. Here are a few ways to build new relationships during a difficult time:
- organize a phone tree or an email support exchange with fellow seniors at your church or synagogue
- find virtual volunteer opportunities in your local community
- host book club or coffee chat meetings via Zoom
- participate in online continuing education classes and workshops
- locate outside interest groups, such as a garden club or walking group
Moving to an independent or assisted living community is another way to increase your social circle and grow friends. Residents soon find friends who share similar life experiences and interests. These connections are the support you will depend on during life’s ups and downs. Senior communities also offer a variety of life enrichment programs designed to nurture the body, mind, and spirit.
If you would like to set up a time for a virtual tour at a Sunrise Senior Living community, please call (888) 434-4648. We’ll be happy to schedule a time for you to learn more!