By Jackson Monroe, OneClick.chat
Did you know that regular social interaction not only makes you feel better, but it can actually extend your lifespan? Studies have shown that a lack of social engagement can lead to poor mental, physical, and cognitive health outcomes. In fact, people with strong social ties have a 50% increase in their lifespan over those who are socially isolated. Since older adults are often at a greater risk of loneliness and health complications, socializing is more important than ever to stay healthy. As Coronavirus will likely prompt a loneliness crisis or epidemic within the US, here are five effects socializing has on your health:
Improved Mental Health, Including Lower Rates of Depression
Across people’s lifespan, social engagement is associated with beneficial mental health outcomes. Depression is not a symptom of growing older, it’s a symptom of social isolation. Up to 1 in 3 older Americans live alone, and up to 40% feel lonely at a given time. They spend seven hours a day in front of a television, which can lead to isolation and depression that is linked to physical inactivity and poor sleep.
Decreased Development of Dementia (Alzheimer’s)
Low social engagement has been linked to impaired cognitive function as well as the development and onset of dementia. Individuals with dementia who have had more communication with others also had greater independence in activities of their daily life, demonstrating an important relationship between social function and maintaining functional independence. When examining the causes of dementia, social engagement is seen as cognitively stimulating and benefitting cognitive reserve. Lonely older adults have the greatest risk of developing dementia. However, socializing can help ease the risk of cognitive decline.
Reduced High Blood Pressure
One study showed that older adults who were lonely had higher blood pressure than those who were socially active. High blood pressure could weaken the body and make people prone to heart attacks, strokes, and weakened blood vessels, among other things. By being socially engaged, older adults can lower their chances of high blood pressure and the negative health effects that come with it.
Promotes Psychological Well-being
Social connectedness is a positive psychological state characterized by a sense of identity, stability, purpose, self-esteem and meaning that induces health-promoting behaviors and improves immune responses. It’s normal to feel lonely, three out of five Americans are, but it’s rarely talked about, pushing lonely people into deeper pockets and minimizing their self-esteem. Social engagement forms connections that make people feel important, boosting their self-worth and confidence.
Mortality is one of the best-documented and most researched negative health outcomes associated with low levels of social engagement. In fact, a 2012 study showed that lonely people have a heightened risk of death, and people without strong social ties have a 50% decreased likelihood of survival. In addition, AARP research finds that the health risks of prolonged social isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, nearly a full pack. These effects are independent of initial health, suggesting that social relationships affect health outcomes rather than vice versa.
As adults age, their social network decreases in size. This puts them at the greatest risk of feeling lonely and becoming socially isolated. Not to mention, all of the studies and research above were conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak, which is disproportionately affecting older adults and social distancing measures are exacerbating social isolation. In order to address this problem and improve the quality of life of older adults, OneClick.chat, a Philly-based startup that designed video chat for older adults, has partnered with the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign to explore how video chat can make social engagement more accessible to older adults and improve health outcomes.
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OneClick.chat is a startup video chat company that, through an NIH-funded study, enhanced its design for older adult users and proved the platform’s potential to improve health and quality of life outcomes by increasing opportunities for social engagement.