In planning my grandfather’s 90th birthday party, I asked him to provide me with names and addresses of those he wanted to invite. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a long list of people, many of whom were also in their 90s, representing friendships that stretched as far back as childhood.
It made me wonder about the common denominator of these older individuals who were still active and connected. Was it something in the area where they grew up that kept them healthy, similar activity levels and fitness habits, or maybe dietary similarities?
Then I noticed that with each suggestion, Granddad would say, “Invite this person, they stop in and visit,” or “Invite that person, we fish together,” or “Invite them, we hunt together.”
Then I realized: Each person was someone who had invested time in my grandfather – and he in them.
A study directed by Dr. Robert Waldinger at Harvard Medical School followed 268 men over the course of 80 years, and eventually their children and spouses, to determine what influenced life-long health. The study determined that healthy relationships have a significant impact on overall health. We spend time investing in our health through exercise, rest and healthy eating, but do we invest in our social networks as diligently? We should.
Our friends and our spouses offer support during times of high stress. Conversely, when we help others by providing support and caregiving, we are focused on someone else’s needs rather than our own. Friends multiply joys and dilute sadness, ultimately having a positive impact on our health. Loneliness can increase the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression and other conditions detrimental to our health, but developing positive social relationships decreases this risk. A 2010 study focused on the association between social relationships and mortality found that people with healthy relationships have a 50 percent lower mortality risk than those with poor quality relationships.
Maybe it has something to do with staying active with our friends: Sharing a meal, taking a short trip, going shopping, or stopping in for coffee and a laugh. Maybe our friends hold us accountable for our health. They remind us to follow up with doctor appointments, and encourage us to put down the donut and grab the apple. Friends give us someone to stay active with.
I remember when my daughter was about 5 years old, bouncing out of the play place at McDonald’s with the announcement, “Mommy, this is Audrey. She is my new friend!” I marveled at how easy it was for her to begin playing and sharing so openly. If only it were that easy as we age! But it can be easier than you think. Here are a few suggestions:
Take a group trip
This is a great way to meet people with similar interests and share time together getting to know one another in a fun and easy environment. Even if you don’t have a “partner” to go with you, you will still have something in common with the others on the trip! You won’t be the only solo passenger, I assure you!
When you invest your energy and your time in a cause you believe in, you will immediately connect with a social group with similar interests.
Take a class
What better way to find others with similar interests than taking a class? It is a low-stress environment where you can engage in conversation when you wish, at your own pace.
Join a civic or church group
Once again, when one is focused on a cause that others are also engaged in, it becomes easy to build those relationships.
Join a book club
You will enjoy reading and sharing your opinions, and you will learn a lot about the others in the group.
If you’re not married, date! If you are married, double date with other couples!
Take an exercise class
A perfect way to strengthen your physical and social well-being! You are in charge of how much you talk, but you’ll find you have more in common. Who knows, you may even burn off enough calories to head out for dinner afterward!
Invite people over for dinner.
Show off your cooking skills, or try out a new recipe with another brave soul!
The key is to build relationships at any age. Sure, as we age, some friends retire or move away, and some may leave us through sad means, but it is essential that we invest in building more friendships. We truly were not meant to live our lives alone. Stay happier and healthier by investing in your relationships and allowing others to invest in you!