Friends And Community: The Secret To Longevity
Jonathan Perlman, founder of Tradition Senior Living in Houston & Dallas, TX.
Jonathan Perlman
November 29, 2018

A Harvard research study launched in 1938 during the Great Depression has shown that embracing community helps us live longer and be happier. The “Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the world’s longest studies ever conducted on adult life.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” says Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the current director of the study. Waldinger’s TED Talk, “What Makes A Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness,” has been viewed more than 13,000,000 times.

The Nature of Community Has Changed

Those from earlier generations likely grew up in communities where everyone knew each other, where neighborhood kids played together, and where family was close by. 

“Loneliness kills,” Dr. Waldinger writes. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

The typical American family structure and the nature of neighborhoods has changed over the years. Adult children and grandchildren often move away for jobs or other opportunities.

Seniors who grew up having a strong sense of community and closeness to family may find that over time, their family and friends move away. Some will pass away. Life can change dramatically, and many seniors may find themselves feeling isolated or lonely.

For many older adults, their golden years may also include some time alone after losing a spouse. Loss surely impacts one’s circle of friends, too.

Women and men from an earlier generation may not feel as comfortable socializing with other couples as a widow or widower. Loneliness can often lead to depression and cause people to withdraw, at least temporarily, from family and friends.

Many older Americans also may not be accustomed to engaging in activities by themselves, such as eating out or going to a movie. Consequently, their activities in general may become more limited, making life itself more limited.

This can take a toll over time.

How to Find A Built-In Circle of Friends and Neighbors

Moving to a senior living community can help.

A senior living community offers an easy, built-in way to make new friends. Whether your hobbies include art, bridge, reading, travel, or music, you’re sure to find others who share your passions and would be delighted to share them with you.

A robust program of social and educational activities can make day-to-day living more interesting and fun, help keep a senior’s mind sharp, and contribute to a better overall quality of life.

For those who are still active in the broader community and may choose not to participate in these structured activities, there’s always an opportunity to make new friends at meals, in the hallways, or in the gym.

It can be challenging to make new friends as we grow older without the benefit of an easily accessible gathering place for people in our age group. The active lifestyle at a senior living community makes it easier than ever to forge new and lasting friendships.

The Importance of Friendships

Friends become increasingly important to health and happiness as people age, according to new research in the journal, Personal Relationships.

People with strong social ties have a 50 percent better chance of survival, according to a clinical review of 150 studies and 300,000 people. In fact, according to the researchers, the health risk of having few friends was similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and more dangerous than being obese or not exercising in terms of decreasing your lifespan.

Friends and Family

Author William Chopik found that both family and friend relationships were associated with better health and happiness overall.

“The general point is that the more support, the more positive interactions, the better,” Chopik says. “The important thing is having people you can rely on, for the good times as well as the bad.”

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