Keeping Engaged Socially is good for your health!
We are not talking about your marital status. We mean, do you participate in activities that connect you with other people? As people get older, their social lives oftentimes slow down for a variety of reasons. When it is unwanted, this can lead to loneliness and isolation. Research has shown that for older adults, staying engaged in enjoyable activities is associated with better physical and mental health. As we age, being involved with others is strongly associated with better brain function. So it is not only fun, it is good for you! You might not have ever imagined that while you were singing in the church choir, or meeting with your book club, or volunteering at the animal shelter that you were actually improving your brain health!
In addition, research has shown that learning a new activity for older people can provide some “insurance” against memory loss. However, it cannot prevent progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
There are many ways to get involved in your local community. Some to consider include:
- Participate in sports—whether tai chi or tennis, there’s something for every interest and ability.
- Head outdoors—join a walking, hiking, or bird watching group.
- Make music—join a choir or band or take lessons.
- Get involved—participate with a church, temple, or other religious organization.
- Read, join, participate, or start a book club.
- Volunteer for a cause or group you’re passionate about.
- Take classes at a gym.
- Find (or start!) a group that fits your passion —whether it’s knitting or carpentry.
- Indulge your creativity —stage a play with friends, create a themed-dining dinner club, or take an art class.
There are national organizations that can help connect you with these kinds of activities, including:
- Websites like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and AARP’s Create the Good help connect people and nonprofits who care about similar causes.
- AARP’s Experience Corp is an AmeriCorps program that trains adults 50+ to tutor elementary students who aren’t reading at grade level.
- The American Volkssport Association is a national organization promoting physical fitness, with has many local clubs that sponsor walks and other fitness events.
- Meetup is a website that helps connect people with common interests of all kinds, so they can meet up and enjoy discussions and activities.
- SilverSneakers is a national network of gyms with free membership for those with participating health plans, and a community of other adults seeking to remain fit and involved.
- The Senior Theater Resource provides information for older adults interested in performing.
- Encore.org is an online resource for those interested in utilizing their experience and knowledge to do work—paid or unpaid—with social impact, to benefit future generations.
So why not take some steps to stay connected and keep your brain healthy – through an activity you enjoy – with your community?
An example of a memory prompt for walkers in the SHARP Program.
Portland, Oregon is one community where theories about the benefits of increasing social engagement and brain health are being put into action. The Sharing History through Active Reminiscence and Photo-imagery (SHARP) Program, run by the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), brings together small groups of older African Americans for mile-long GPS-guided walks. Historic photos of local interest, like the one above, appear on the group’s digital device at selected locations. At each of these Memory Markers, the group pauses to discuss the photograph and flex their memories. The SHARP program specifically targets African Americans, who may be less aware than white Americans of the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, have higher rates of some possible dementia risk factors, and be slower to seek care.
OHSU runs the SHARP program as part of the Healthy Brain Research Network, a thematic network of CDC Prevention Research Centers that promotes cognitive health and supports older Americans with cognitive decline as well as their caregivers. Through a unique combination of social engagement, exercise, and memory stimulation, the SHARP program aims to promote healthy aging of mind and body, preserve neighborhood memories, and increase awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease in a local community.
To learn more, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/social-engagement-aging.html.