What Does It Mean?
Social engagement (also called social involvement or social participation) refers to one’s degree of participation in a community or society.
Why Is It Important?
Social interaction helps keep your brain from getting “rusty”, but it’s most effective when coupled with an overall healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet and physical activity.
Research has shown that social interaction offers older adults many benefits. Staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help you maintain good physical and emotional health and cognitive function.
People who continue to maintain close friendships and find other ways to interact socially have been shown to live longer than those who become isolated.
Relationships and social interactions even help protect against illness by boosting your immune system.
The benefits of being social
Specific health benefits of social interaction in older adults include:
- Potentially reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Potentially reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive impairment
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk for mental health issues such as depression
Conversely, social isolation carries real risks. Some of these risks are:
- Feeling lonely and depressed
- Being less physically active
- Having a greater risk of illness or death
- Having high blood pressure
How To Access Opportunity:
As you get older and retire or move to a new community, you may not have quite as many opportunities to socialize as you did when you were younger. If you’re not heading to an office or getting out and about each day, you may be missing out on important social interaction that you need to stay sharp and healthy.
Keeping your connections strong
Start by staying in touch with friends and family, and try to visit with them regularly. Here are other ways you can maintain a high level of social interaction:
- Volunteer in your community.
- Look for agencies of groups that offer socialization in your neighborhood or area
- Visit a community center and participate in offered activities with other adults—this is a great way to make new friends.
- Join a group focused on activities you enjoy, such as playing cards or a book club
- Take trips with friends, even small day trips
- Try taking a class—learn a new language or a new style of cooking or experiment with a new hobby.
- Join a gym or fitness center to stay physically fit and engage with others.
Find ways to stay stimulated, busy—and out of the house. Many older adults may fall into a routine of staying indoors or close to home. That may bring a sense of security, but often it may actually being doing more harm than good. Try scheduling regular visits with children or grandkids. Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future.
Although staying in touch in person is important, phone calls, snail mail, and e-mail can keep you connected, too—if you’re not yet comfortable with computers, ask a young relative to help you. Staying socially active and maintaining your relationships are an important part of healthy aging. Reach out to your loved ones—neighbors, friends, family members—and stay as vibrant, active, and social as you’ve always been.