Living well isn’t just about regular exercise or good nutrition.
According to recent research from Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London, social contact may be just as important for senior health as a good diet and physical fitness.
“Social contact is a fundamental aspect of human existence,” says Andrew Steptoe, the study’s lead researcher. “The scientific evidence is that being socially isolated is probably bad for your health, and may lead to the development of serious illness and a reduced life span."
Millions of older Americans suffer from chronic loneliness that can keep them from living well, but they can beat isolation by building a supportive social network.
Joining an active senior living community, like Marjorie P. Lee, is an easy way for older adults to get out in the community and make lasting friendships, but you can still find friends by finding a social setting where you feel comfortable—whether you prefer online message boards or an early morning coffee break.
- Take a class. Hobbies can give you a sense of accomplishment by producing tangible results, like a well-cooked meal or a warm sweater, and they can put you in touch with peers who are interested in the same new experiences that you are. Find out if your local senior center offers regular classes, and sign up for any activities that strike your fancy.
- Volunteer. Loneliness can make you feel isolated, but don’t withdraw from your community. Plugging into a local charitable endeavor is a good way to make friends and find fulfillment. Helping others can help you too, helping you build a connection within the community.
- Go online. Sometimes, you just can’t find the motivation to go out, and that’s okay. Studies show that more and more frequently, older adults are using the internet as a way to find support and build meaningful relationships.
How to make friends and not alienate people.
If you feel like you never know what to say in social situations, try these 5 easy tips for striking up a conversation.
- Remark on the surroundings or occasion. Art lovers and history buffs can find kindred spirits at local galleries and museums. All you have to do is get the ball rolling. Comment on an exhibit or a painting, or better yet…
- Ask an open-ended question, one that requires more than just a yes or no answer. Most people enjoy talking about the things they love. All you have to do is give them an opportunity to start a conversation, and questions are a great way to do that. Follow the journalist's credo: who, where, when, what, why, and how.
- Use a compliment. Flattery doesn’t always get you nowhere. Leading off with an appropriately-timed compliment— on wardrobe, competence or some other positive quality—can be a good conversation starter if you follow it up with a question. Telling someone you like their shoes, then asking where they were purchased prompts a response that can initiate a whole conversation. Just make sure you aren’t making anyone uncomfortable with your attention.
- Keep the conversation going with small talk. Heavy topics are surefire way to drag down a light-hearted mood. So save the politics and social commentary for a later meeting. Focus on light subjects about things you may have in common like your hometown or favorite sports team.
- Listen effectively. Hearing and listening are not the same thing. Effective communication requires you to listen to what your conversational partner is saying. You don’t really hear what a person is saying if you're planning what you're going to say next. Waiting for someone to finish their sentence so you can make your next point doesn’t encourage a prolonged conversation, even if you still hear what they say.