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All through life, we are encouraged to “go make some friends.” Learning to share toys as toddlers gives way to joining team sports and clubs as youths. Then with adulthood comes abundant social opportunities- with neighbors and coworkers, church friends and parent groups. Our lives are simply richer and more fulfilled when entwined in the lives of others.

Staying social in older age is no different. In fact, research shows it may be the most crucial time in a person’s life to maintain relationships—which, of course, can be particularly challenging for many seniors. Still, seeking out the company of others is very much worth the effort, and life in a senior living community makes this a whole lot easier. 

Why Staying Connected Is Essential

From a friendly chat with a stranger to a weekly poker game with friends, the benefits of having an active social life go way beyond simply “having fun.” It’s also a critical component of staying healthy and living a long life. 

A long-running Harvard study supports this. The project, which has followed a cohort of men from 1938 through now, has found a strong association between happiness, longevity and close relationships. 

“It wasn't money, fame, or work ethic that led to happiness,” explains Dr. Chad Snyder, Clinical Director of telemental health services provider meMD. “The clear message of the study was that good relationships keep us happier, healthier, and living longer. The quality of close relationships matter, as they tend to buffer us from the impact of aging. Avoiding isolation and loneliness by creating social connections is really good for us.”

While spending quality time with family or friends can bring much-needed joy to our lives, there are even more concrete benefits, including:

#1 Ability to Ward Off Depression

Mental well-being through social activity is fundamental to resident life in every Holiday independent living community. Countless studies have found that social connectedness is a critical part of mental health, particularly when it comes to depression. A large body of evidence links social isolation and loneliness to a decline in mental health—one big reason why researchers have been keeping a close eye on seniors through the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating in activities like social clubs, volunteering, family gatherings, and hobbies can be extremely effective at preventing depression and even improving cognitive function. 

#2 Lowered Risks of Illness

Meaningful relationships can significantly decrease a person’s risk of serious health issues and even premature death. According to a 2020 study published by the National Academy of Sciences, social isolation or loneliness was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease, 32% increased risk of stroke, and a staggering 50% increased risk of dementia.

Other research shows that social well-being may play a role in preventing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and even some cancers. A 2018 study found people with strong social lives had a lower risk of death from cancer than people with weaker ones. The study’s researchers urge health care professionals to promote social connectedness as a means for improving cancer survival.

#3 Increased Quality of Life

A 2019 survey of senior living communities found that 55% of residents reported their quality of life (QOL) was significantly higher than it had been before moving to the community the previous year. Only 19% of non-residents reported a similar increase. People living in senior communities were also two to five times more likely to take part in exercise, time with family and friends, social events, and dining with others than their non-resident counterparts. 

A good night’s sleep is also strongly associated with a better quality of life. Research shows that isolated people often report having trouble sleeping, while those who have fulfilling relationships in their lives tend to sleep better. 

#4 Stronger immune system

Scientists have long noticed that the immune systems of lonely people worked differently than those who stay engaged with others. When people suffer from social isolation, their white blood cells increase chronic inflammation while reducing viral defenses, resulting in a set of responses that are linked to everything from cancer to depression. Researchers are still working to understand why this happens.

#5 Improved Memory

Forgetfulness doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. In fact, a 2017 study by Northwestern University researchers found that adults over 80 who had more positive relationships than their less social counterparts enjoyed similar episodic memory performance as middle-agers. 

More Motivation to Mingle

The good news is that Holiday residents have ample opportunities to reap the rewards of socialization right outside their doors. Shared meals with neighbors, organized activities and events, fitness classes with friends, game nights, happy hours and outings are all great ways to build relationships with other residents.

Dr. Snyder agrees that the social atmosphere offered in Holiday senior communities is key to keeping residents at the top of their game. “Participating in social activities is like exercise for your brain. It helps reduce stress, increases hormones that decrease anxiety, and increases feelings of well being that lead to increased confidence and self esteem.

But healthy social engagement is more than having a packed calendar. When Holiday surveyed residents, they found feeling connected socially isn’t just about keeping busy with activity, but rather about having meaningful relationships with peers at the community and in the local town. 

Holiday knows that meeting people and sharing experiences helps us thrive, while also offering the emotional support needed to stay healthy. 

“Ultimately, the socialization that happens in the community offers a sense of belonging, being connected and cared for,” says Dr. Snyder.

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