Staying Connected for Better Health

Andrea Bressler, Penn State Extension Educator Retired

As we enter these dark and cold winter months, it’s easy to withdraw from social activities and stay inside, perhaps wrapped up in a warm blanket.

Despite the weather we should all strive to stay in contact with others. Chronic loneliness or too much alone time can result in boredom and it may harm your health.

As more and more research on Alzheimer disease is published, it finds that loneliness is associated with depression, cognitive declines, declines in mobility and daily function and increased risk of early death.

Brigham Young University’s research suggests loneliness, social isolation and living alone are greater risk factors then obesity for premature death.

Loneliness is common with almost 17 percent of American adults over age 60 reporting being lonely often or much of the time. And it’s more common in women than men.

Social ties can unravel because of life events that occur as we age. Sometimes the death of a spouse or partner leads to social isolation.

An illness or physical limitation can make it more difficult to get around. And if you remain healthy, persons you socialize with may have these things happen to them. Over time it becomes more difficult to maintain social relationships.

If you find yourself alone more than you like, there are some things you can do to help bring people back into your life. Start by making social connections a priority.

It’s easy to get caught up in your own life and responsibilities and lose touch with others. Make it a point to call, email, or meet up with friends or family members on a regular basis.

In 2016, some 32 percent of women over age 65 lived alone (American Psychological Association). Living alone is a major risk factor for loneliness.

Perhaps we should look at more shared housing options for older people or consider getting a roommate. Shared living is quite common in many cultures throughout the world.

Common interests create bonds. If you enjoy reading, join a book club. Consider the various group exercises classes offered in your community.

Then there are church activities, community organizations and fraternal groups to consider. Many local organizations rely on volunteers and if you are alone, you have plenty of time to volunteer.

Ask around or contact your local volunteer center to see the many possibilities. You may choose something you’re already comfortable doing or really stretch yourself and delve into something new.

Whatever you choose, fostering social connections can make your life more enjoyable and help to maintain your health.

It’s OK to start slowly, challenging yourself to one social interaction per week and then adding more activities. Don’t hesitate to initiate meeting up with friends.

There is a good chance they will welcome the opportunity to spend time with you. Socializing should be as much a part of your everyday life as exercise, good nutrition and brushing your teeth.

The Women’s Health Task Force of Clearfield County (WHTF) is a small group volunteering their time to educate women and families on important health issues.

If you have an interest in health, work in a caring profession, or want to volunteer with other sincere individuals, consider attending the planning meetings.

Please call Robin Kuleck at 814-486-9359 and e-mail her at rkuleck@psu.edu for additional information.

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