By Renata J. Maslowski
What does retirement mean to you? For many, it conjures thoughts of throwing away the alarm clock, sitting in a rocking chair whiling away the hours watching TV. Are these activities enough to maintain brain health as you age? According to health studies, apparently not!
The most valuable aspect of pre-retirement is working on a project that holds meaning beyond oneself and that involves sharing tasks with others. Both social activity and broader significance of work remain relevant needs after retirement.
How we spend our free time and use our talents say a great deal about who we are and how we feel about ourselves. As we age, retire and decrease family responsibilities, our social activities become proportionally more important.
Social wellness, one of the eight dimensions of wellness, can impact overall health and keep us independent longer as we age. (1)
Studies show that social activities can help keep older adults more fit mentally and emotionally, and that finding or building a strong social community is key to successful aging. “Researchers have long known about the health benefits of “social capital”—the ties that build trust, connection, and participation.” (2)
Epidemiologist Yvonne Michael, Drexel University School of Public Health, found that communities with high social capital could transfer healthy practices to their senior members. These communities showed seniors had better mobility, higher rate of health screenings and less bad habits, like smoking. The community members also felt more secure because the social capital allowed them access to help with tasks, like snow shoveling, that were beyond their physical abilities.
There are also broader positive effects of well-established social capital. Building strong relationships may help us reduce stress, and protect us against dementia and depression. (3)
The results of public health studies repeatedly indicate that social capital can help us maintain physical activity and preserve mental health and cognitive abilities. Seniors with social connections had 50-70% better cognitive function than those who were isolated.
There are many ways for you to build a strong social network.
- Volunteer at a church, school, club or nonprofit organization to use prior work skills.
- Join a book, game or craft club through a YMCA, senior center or library to blend creativity and fun.
- Adult education programs can lead to lifelong learning and new skills in music, dance or other interests.
- Seek out a senior living community that offers a vibrant activities program and plenty of daily social engagement.
While you may wish to stay in your own home as long as possible, living in a supportive, secure and socially-connected community offers clear benefits to your physical, emotional and mental health. Exploring the options and finding the place that works best with your personality and needs is essential.
Whatever path you take to enrich your life, ensure that you maintain the social activities that are essential for keeping vital with age.
(1), (2), (3) Resources available upon request. Renata J. Maslowski is the Director of Marketing and Sales for Ingleside Homes, Inc. We offer seniors Independent and Assisted Living options. For more information or to schedule a visit, call 302-575-0250. Also on the web at www.inglesidehomes.org.