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The social side of health

Created date

September 25th, 2012

Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer for Erickson Living and directs the provision of medical care at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and is board certified in internal medicine and geriatrics. He is coauthor of Old Is the New Young, a guide to successful aging (available on A fundamental goal of each and every one of us is to be healthy and independent throughout our lives. Over the past 50 years, we have learned how important eating right, exercising, and prevention are to achieving that goal. But are there other important factors that influence our health that are less well appreciated? A recent study reported in theArchives of Internal Medicinesuggests thatsocialengagementmay also play an important role in your health and well-being. Researchers took a look at loneliness by asking seniors if they felt left out, isolated, or lacked companionship. Individuals who met the criteria for loneliness were found to be at increased risk for functional decline and death. While the study did not describe why there is an association between loneliness and worse health outcomes, we all know we feel better mentally and physically when we are active socially and engaged in the activities we enjoy. Social engagement is often a greater challenge for seniors because the death of a spouse or close friend, retirement, or health problems can contribute to a sense of loss, loneliness, and isolation. This can be compounded by the fact that many seniors live alone and may not be able to get out easily.

Taking the first step

The key is to recognize that you may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and to take action and look for ways to socialize and re-engage. Using the computer or talking on the phone may be helpful if you can t get out, but interacting with others in person is most beneficial. Combining this interaction with some kind of physical or mental activity is even better, and it doesn t have to be in the form of a large, organized event. Simply taking a walk with a friend is an excellent form of socializing; playing cards or participating in a book club discussion are also great ways to socialize. We all thrive on spending time with those we love and participating in activities which are of interest. Now we know these activities are healthful as well. Take the time and catch up on the people and things that you enjoy. You ll surely feel better for it. In good health, Dr. Narrett