Washington: A new study now finds scientists saying that variety in social circle may help a person live longer.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people were more likely to be physically active and had greater emotional well-being.
In a paper out today in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, researchers found that study participants who interacted more with family members and close friends, as well as acquaintances, casual friends, service providers and strangers were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, less time spent sitting or lying around, greater positive moods and fewer negative feelings. It is the first study to link social engagement with physical activity throughout the day.
Speaking about it, study author Karen Fingerman said, “Adults often grow less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviours pose a risk factor for disease and death,” adding, “It is difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barrista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop. Socializing in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviors in ways that benefit health without necessarily working up a sweat.”
The researchers asked study participants about their activities and social encounters every three hours for about a week. Participants also wore electronic devices to monitor their physical activity. Fingerman and the team observed that during the three-hour periods when participants were engaging with a greater variety of social partners, they reported engaging in a greater variety of activities such as leaving the house, walking, talking with others, or shopping. They also engaged in more objectively measured physical activity, and less time being sedentary.
This study showed those acquaintances or peripheral ties may encourage older adults to be more physically active, a key factor that has been shown to contribute to physical and emotional health, as well as cognitive ability.
Fingerman elaborated, “Older adults may be able to be more sedentary with their close friends and family — sitting and watching TV or otherwise lounging at home.”
He further added, “But to engage with acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get up out of their chair to answer the door.”
Co authpor Debra Umberson added, “Prior research on aging has focused almost entirely on the benefits of social connection with close social ties such as a spouse or an adult child.”
She further said, “This new research relies on truly novel data that capture both the amount and quality of contact with all types of people that the elderly encounter throughout the day — and the results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for activity levels and psychological well-being. This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation.”