Staying socially active can also help older adults age their best, according to new research that pinpoints volunteering and recreational activities as important for seniors.
“Although the study’s observational nature prohibits the determination of causality, it makes intuitive sense that social activity is associated with successful aging,” said study co-author Mabel Ho, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Institute of Life Course and Aging.
“Being socially active is important no matter how old we are. Feeling connected and engaged can boost our mood, reduce our sense of loneliness and isolation, and improve our mental health and overall health," Ho added in a university news release.
To study this, the researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging of more than 7,000 Canadians aged 60 and older, following them for three years. The investigators only included those in excellent health at baseline, which was about 45% of the respondents.
The findings showed that those who participated in volunteer work and recreational activities were more likely to maintain excellent health. They also were less likely to develop physical, cognitive ("thinking"), mental or emotional problems.
Successful aging was freedom from any serious physical, cognitive, mental or emotional conditions that prevent daily activities. It also meant having high levels of self-reported happiness, and good physical and mental health.
The researchers took a broader view of successful aging than some studies have. Respondents could still be considered to be aging successfully if they had a chronic illness, as long as they were free from disabling chronic pain and could engage in everyday activities. The definition also included subjective perception from the participants. Subjective perception means that it is based on personal opinions and feelings rather than on facts.
The study found that 72% of respondents who participated in volunteer or recreational activities at the start of the study were still aging successfully three years later. That compared with just two-thirds of those not participating in these activities.
The researchers then considered a wide range of sociodemographic characteristics, finding that respondents who participated in recreational activities and volunteer or charity work were 15% and 17% more likely to maintain excellent health by the end of the study.
Doctors can “prescribe” social activities for their patients to encourage them to engage in these activities, the authors suggested.
The study was published online June 6 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more on healthy aging.
SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, June 7, 2023