This one simple trick helps seniors live longer


If you’re elderly here’s some excellent news. That daily card or board game with friends? Those long hours spent chatting in the café?

They’re good for you.

Elderly people who socialize everyday are much more likely to live longer, while isolating them is one of the worst things you can do for their health as well as their well-being.

So reports a major new study, based on multiple five-yearly surveys of more than 28,000 elderly Chinese over a 20-year period.

Those who socialized every day were nearly 60% less likely to die in any given year than those who didn’t really socialize at all, report researchers Ziqiong Wang, Yi Zheng, Haiyan Ruan, Liying Li, Linjia Duan and Sen He from the department of cardiology at Sichuan University in China. This was among the very elderly: The average age of the participating subject was 89 years old. The research, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, was based on the long-running Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Study.

 “This study found that frequent participation in social activity was associated with prolonged overall survival time,” the researchers found. They added: “From baseline to 5 years of follow-up, the more frequent the social activity, the more prolonged the survival time…social participation was a strong protective factor of health and longevity for older people.” Participating in social activities every day was associated with prolonged survival time even beyond five years, they added.

This may be the biggest contribution yet to the growing evidence that regular, daily social contact is a key factor for health among the elderly, and especially among the very elderly—in addition to being a key factor for quality of life. Other studies—such as this one published last year and this one published in 2020 have found much the same thing. Other studies have found that elderly people who socialize more may be less likely to develop dementia, heart disease or depression.

Technically, they can’t prove that socializing makes older people healthier or live longer, only that older people who do socialize a lot tend to be healthier and live longer. (All these “observational” studies, which are based on observing people as they go about their daily lives, suffer from obvious limitations. You couldn’t really prove causation unless you were free to lock 10,000 subjects up in a lab, like rats or guinea pigs, for five or 10 years, and some people might object to that on ethical grounds.)

So the connection between socializing and living longer may involve correlation as well as, or instead of, causation. Those who have lots of friends, for example, may be less likely to smoke, more likely to be physically active, and more likely to eat healthier foods, the researchers note.

Nonetheless the growing evidence shows a pretty strong connection between staying social and living a longer, healthier life. It’s been over a decade since pop science writer Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the town of Roseto, Pa., where the strong social bonds of the Italian-American community coincided with apparently longer, healthier lives.




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