Essential for health
Social connections are essential for health and wellbeing at any age, and it may be especially important for promoting health later in life. As humans, we crave a sense of belonging.
The benefits include a stronger immune system, lower rates of depression and anxiety, cooperative relationships, increased motivation, greater empathy, lower levels of stress and higher self-esteem.
As we age, we are at increased risk of social isolation because we are more likely to face factors such as living alone, mobility difficulties, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness and carer responsibilities. Loneliness has a negative effect on quality of life and increases the risk of mental decline.
Strong relationships and consistent social connections can help promote our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Friendships and social connections can provide emotional support to help when facing life’s challenges. People who have strong relationships and remain connected with others are likely to have a better quality of life, improved memory and cognitive skills, increased motivation for self-care and require less domestic support.
Maslow theorized a sense of ‘love and belonging’ as an essential human need. The support you get from others can add to a feeling of purpose and meaning in life. Positive interaction on a regular basis can help combat feelings of isolation as when we are socially connected, we have a stronger sense of belonging.
Social connections include visiting with family, neighbours and friends, doing voluntary work, participating in formal activities and religious services.
Participation in leisure activities is associated with a lower risk for negative mental and physical health outcomes and mortality.
Tips for building social connections:
Make plans to talk, arrange plans with others and stick to them. Try and stay active. Nurture your relationships as giving support is just as important as getting it. Take the initiative to make plans with others.
Try to connect with others each day. This could include having a meal with family, meeting a friend in the community, joining a club or going to an event and having conversations on the phone. Since the covid-19 crisis, many continue to limit their in-person interactions. Despite these challenges, there are many ways to connect both virtually and in person.
Reaching out and sharing your thoughts can help. Whether it is with someone you know, a volunteer or professional. There is always someone who is there to listen. Answering phone calls, reciprocating invitations and returning emails help to stay connected to others.
Exercise has been shown to lower the risk of disease, improve mental health, decrease stress and decrease the risk of falls. Physical exercise has a positive effect on our physical and mental health. Enhancing exercise and social connections has many benefits, for example, group exercise can be more motivating and encouraging as you are more likely to meet like-minded individuals and join a community.