Want to live happier and longer after retirement? Stay socially active. Seems simple, but a new study lends credence to this somewhat obvious statement. When young and working we naturally are social with others. But when retirement comes, we have less social contact which can lead to lower quality of life or earlier death.
A recent study looked at subjective quality of life as well as risk of death in the years immediately following retirement. Researchers tracked 424 individuals fifty years or older in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which began in 2002-3. They were asked about their participation in clubs, organizations or groups and also rated their quality of life and health. Participants were compared to the same number of people, matched for age, sex, and health status, but who were still working. The results showed when retirees either remained active in old or joined new social groups or clubs, their quality of life was improved and risk of death was lower six years later. The socialization aspect had similar effects as physical exercise did on their longevity and enjoyment of life.
This is an observational, subjective study and firm conclusions cannot be drawn about cause and effect. But perception is often reality for most people. If we feel our quality of life is better, often it truly is.
We all understand the importance of staying physically active, but more and more research is pointing us to being socially active as well. This is because our brain functions differently when we are with others versus being alone. Being social encourages our working and semantic memory in new and different ways, all of which stimulate our brains. Similar to exercising our bodies, when we exercise our brains, even by being social, brain connections are strengthened.
The rise of cognitively stimulating activities on electronic devices is great, but nothing can replace face to face social contact with others. So let’s get out, enjoy family, friends and join some activities that will increase our socialization and stimulate our brains. Not only will we enjoy life more, but maybe even live longer too!
Research reference: Niklas K Steffens, Tegan Cruwys, Catherine Haslam, Jolanda Jetten, S Alexander Haslam. Social group memberships in retirement are associated with reduced risk of premature death: evidence from a longitudinal cohort study. BMJ Open, February 2016 DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010164