“Good friends are good for your health!” So says the Mayo Clinic. Friendships increase happiness and a sense of belonging. These connections help reduce stress level, and allow us to more successfully cope with traumas. While numerous studies show loneliness in older adults is directly associated with higher blood pressure, depression, and cognitive challenges like dementia.
Author Dan Buettner has seen first-hand how a group of friends impacts quality and length of life by studying some of the longest-living populations around the world. In his book, The Blue Zones Solution, Buettner describes an Okinawan tradition of purposeful friendship, called moai, and how it contributes to longer, healthier lives. Japanese for “meeting for a common purpose,” moai is a group of about five women, deliberately brought together as youngsters, who stay involved in each others’ lives --financially, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Combining this tradition with their vegetable-dominant, low-calorie diet, an active lifestyle, and good genes has reportedly made Okinawan women the world’s longest-lived population.
Although we don’t all have the luxury of being part of a moai since childhood, we can tap into replenishing sources of social support by:
- Connecting with people who enjoy the same hobby
- Regularly attending a church or synagogue
- Eating some of our meals each week with other people
- Contributing our talents to a worthy cause
In the American tradition, seniors don’t typically become socially isolated by choice. They endure deaths of spouses, siblings, and friends. Grown children move away for better jobs and marriage. Close friends move to live near their children and grandchildren. Older adults gradually, or sometimes suddenly, deal with physical mobility limitations due to ailments and injuries. Eventually most people stop feeling comfortable driving their cars, which further limits their mobility across our vast country.
So how can we take control of the circumstances that lead to social isolation and instead revel in the benefits of friendship? It’s all about community.
Many seniors see that living in a vibrant retirement community provides an environment where we can keep doing the things that connect us to others, while at the same time remain surrounded by opportunities to more naturally develop new friendships.
Common spaces, like the dining room, swimming pool, walking paths and library lead to spontaneous conversations with new people. Themed happy hours, special occasion dinners and every-day meals bring people together for laughs, conversation and finding common ground.
A dynamic activities calendar mixes together people who share similar hobbies and interests. Whether its book clubs, watercolor classes, current events discussions, quilting, or trivia games, we all find tremendous comfort being with people who love what we love. It’s in these moments we see friendships bloom and roots grow deeper, adding months and even years to our lives.