What’s the Biggest Secret to Enjoying a Long, Healthy Life?
For eons, human beings have pursued the fabled Fountain of Youth, that magical spring bubbling with healing waters waiting to restore vitality to all those who drink from or bathe in it. Tempting as it may be to embark on a quest for this elusive legend, there’s an easier way to freeze the aging process, remedy illness and recapture that little spring in your step. And although surprising, the biggest secret to living a long, healthy life hides in plain sight.
Here, we’ll immerse ourselves in the significant, positive impact that frequent social contact has on health and longevity – and some of the top ways seniors benefit from community living.
Let’s Explore the Relationship Between Relationships and Wellness
For years now, scientists and medical experts have researched this subject. In their findings, they consistently demonstrate why socialization is important for human beings as a whole, and particularly for elderly adults.
Anecdotally speaking, surely, we all remember the early days of quarantining during the COVID pandemic – and how it heightened fear, anxiety and stress – due in part to our overwhelming feelings of social isolation. While necessary, this physical separation illuminated how much we require – and desire – that in-person contact.
Sadly, many seniors experience this separation and loneliness, and their negative effects, on an ongoing, daily basis. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
Diving Deep into the Blue Zone
Among the researchers’ work we consult is that of Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist and human behavior columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who writes and speaks on her extensive social neuroscience studies. During her research, Pinker examined a renowned “Blue Zone.” That’s the designation given to several regions of the world in which residents live much longer than average, and enjoy better health.
Pinker visited a remote, mountainous area of Sardinia, an island off of Italy’s southern coast. Sardinia boasts six times more centenarians than the mainland of Italy – and an incredible ten times more than Europe and the United States. Pinker determines that the close-knit nature of this community so enriches its senior residents that it boosts their health and longevity.
In this region, men also tend to live just as long as women do – defying the data that shows women outlive men by an average of 5 to 7 years in nearly every developed nation. Among the contributing factors to that stat: Women usually retain much fuller social lives.
How The Village Effect Can Benefit Everyone
In her book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter, Pinker references the critical link between real, in-person contact and the ability to find happiness, to learn, to be resilient and to enjoy a long life.
She illustrates how human beings are hardwired to connect with each other, whether through simple social bonds or through close personal relationships. Because in the bigger picture, every contact in our real-world social circle helps create a complete “village” of family, friends and community. Crucially, we truly need these connections in order to survive and thrive.
Pinker shares some staggering statistics, such as:
- Social contact is a tremendously powerful, biological indicator of how well people can think, remember facts and mitigate brain disorders, like dementia.
- The type of social contact in which people engage influences their physical resilience (e.g., their chances of catching colds and how long those colds last, how well their body fights infections and even how fast malignant tumors grow).
- Social contact can impact how people fight disease. A prospective study of 4,000 women with breast cancer, which looked at every aspect of their lifestyles, showed that the greatest predictor of survival over a 10-year period was the size of their in-person social networks.
- Social contact provides an even more powerful predictor of health and longevity – even surpassing physical exercise and whether or not a person smokes.
And remarkably, people who lead active, in-person social lives could expect an added 2- to 15-year lifespan advantage.
Social Isolation and Loneliness Shorten Life Expectancy
We delved into a fascinating meta-analytic review of data from 70 different research studies, which encompassed a total 3.4 million people who were an average 66 years old at the beginning of their study. It revealed an eye-opening connection between loneliness and mortality.
Loud and clear, the review spells out: “Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality.” Consider these statistics:
- During an average 7-year period, people who reported being lonely were 26% more likely to have died than those who did not.
- People who were socially isolated faced a 20% higher mortality risk than those who were not.
- People who lived alone faced a 32% higher mortality risk versus those who did not.
- These negative effects on longevity were the same for all people who experienced loneliness, whether they were actually alone or they merely felt alone.
There’s a devastating truth reflected in these statistics. Any seniors who spend their time being or feeling alone are in danger of dying sooner. And as Pinker herself notes, more and more Americans live alone, at a rate that’s been rising every decade since the early 20th century.
Senior citizens comprise a substantial percentage of this statistic. We can only anticipate that this problem will worsen as the ties between seniors and their family, friends and community weaken.
Senior Living Communities Strengthen Social Connections
Fortunately, a solid solution exists for these vulnerable individuals. The abundance of daily, face-to-face contact built into senior living communities promises their residents a massive advantage in staying socially active – plus the numerous wellness benefits that accompany doing so.
In that environment, seniors effortlessly retain the integral social network they used to enjoy, when they worked, volunteered or played as part of a team, went to school and, of course, raised young children and resided in a household and/or as part of a family unit. Rather than experiencing loneliness, residents of a senior living community will spend hour upon hour each day making new friends, interacting with their neighbors, the staff, volunteers and visitors.
They can foster meaningful relationships and also restore purposefulness, motivation and fulfillment, all while having fun during stimulating activities and events designed for seniors. Together with their peers, they can join in everything from cooking, arts and crafts and gardening workshops, bingo to weekly social clubs, yoga, dance and other fitness and wellness programs – and everything in between.
Look for senior living communities implementing a relationship-centered approach that boosts physical, spiritual, intellectual, social and emotional wellness. This scientifically confirmed style ensures personalized car, and trained team members who genuinely get to know and cater to the needs of seniors and their loved ones. They will work hard to create a warm, welcoming, family atmosphere where residents feel they truly belong.
Trust a Central Texas Senior Living Leader
Now’s the time to find out how a senior living option in your area could be your ideal choice and provide the many benefits of a “village” environment. An expert in assisted living and memory care, Stoney Brook designed its senior living communities to help residents flourish. Through a fun, sociable environment and ample, stimulating activities, you or your loved one can age well – and savor each day to its absolute fullest.
An expert in assisted living and memory care, Stoney Brook designed its senior living communities to help residents flourish. Through a fun, sociable environment and ample, stimulating activities including those listed above, you or your loved one can age well – and savor each day to its absolute fullest. To learn more, schedule a complimentary visit, or subscribe to our blog now.