Social connections are good medicine for your mind and body

The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada, and October 10 is World Mental Health Day. One in four Canadian seniors lives with a mental health problem, and social isolation adversely affects both the psychological and cognitive health of older adults, says the National Seniors Council.

Older adults are more likely to be socially isolated, and lonely people are at higher risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, according to a University of Manitoba study. But the emotional support provided through social connections to others lowers anxiety and depression, says Stanford Medicine.

Social isolation impairs physical health

Many studies also show how a lack of social ties and interactions affect physical health and longevity. Heart attack survivors who were socially isolated and had high stress levels were more than four times as likely to die within three years as those with low levels of stress and isolation, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. In fact, social connectedness had a bigger impact on survival than the heart drug being tested.

A landmark University of California Berkeley study found that men and women who had strong social ties were three times less likely to die over the course of nine years as those who were not connected to others. More remarkably, those with strong social ties and unhealthy lifestyles lived longer than those with poor social ties but healthier lifestyles. People who were socially connected and had healthy lifestyles lived longest.

Extended family eating outdoorsA low quantity or quality of social relationships has also been linked to a higher risk of specific health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, delayed cancer recovery and slower wound healing, as well as a weaker immune system to fight disease, according to the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour.

Social medicine prescription

Staying socially connected and maintaining close relationships is a proven prescription to support good physical, emotional and cognitive health. For older adults whose social networks often get smaller, one big advantage of moving into or living in a retirement community is that there are many ways to socialize each day through activities in and out of the community, and ample opportunities to expand their social network.

Chartwell Retirement Residences offers a variety of social events and recreational activities—from game nights and bistro socials to walking clubs and community outings—that allow our residents to easily meet new friends and build meaningful relationships. Learn more here.