Optimum seniors’ health: best viewed in 3D
There is one fundamental dimension often overlooked in achieving optimum health and wellbeing beyond 55. Completely undetected in blood tests or other diagnostic methods, it can be erroneously disregarded in seniors’ health. Yet, research has shown its importance in contributing to health, happiness and longevity.
What are we missing? Why? And how can we ensure we get sufficient dosages in our senior years?
Good physical health doesn’t just happen
Being blessed with an absence of a family history of chronic health conditions does not guarantee longevity or wellness. In the absence of a debilitating health condition, there are many other dimensions of wellness that work together to grant us our overall wellbeing.
The three broad dimensions of health include:
- Physical: with our diet, water intake, activity levels, weight, muscle and fat composition, joint and bone health, risk of disease and general genetic makeup being the primary areas of focus.
- Mental: with our feelings, level of positivity, stress levels, self identity, intellectual pursuits and education being key areas requiring attention or intervention.
- Social: with our connections to others, our relationships, and our links to community being key areas that require attention.
It is this third dimension - our social connectedness - that isn’t given the consideration in seniors' health, that physical and mental health is.
Perhaps there is a strong economic influence at play here. Prescriptions of pharmaceutical products can show marked improvement in addressing physical and mental health conditions. There are no medications that will connect us with our community if our lifestyle is one of isolation; or strengthen our relationships with loved ones, if in need of repair. And yet, loneliness has been shown to have dire physical and mental health outcomes.
The three dimensions of health are overlapping and interconnected. Take out social health, and physical and mental health will deteriorate.
A 75 year study on happiness reveals the secret to good health
The Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the lifestyles of more than 700 men to understand the link between happiness, health and longevity. This incredible study – that is still underway today – is worth hearing about as an amazing longitudinal research feat. Here is a 12 minute TED talk by Robert Waldinger that you should indulge in watching and share with people you care about – ‘What makes a good life lesson from the longest study on happiness.’
What has 75 years of research shown? Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
“Social connections are good for us, loneliness kills,” Waldinger surmises.
“It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”
How to nurture social health through our later years
It is in our senior years, that our social interactions and community connections can take a bit of a knock. Here are just some examples of what can shift:
- Adult children become preoccupied with their own busy lives – careers, study, young children, social commitments, home projects and so on.
- The incredibly sad loss of a spouse, family members or friends.
- No longer having access to the easier community connections that having school age children, a career, or study, opens up.
- Moving for a tree or sea change, away from family and friends.
- Financial stresses of downsizing your income.
- The family home and neighbourhood has evolved to accommodate a completely different demographic, and environment.
If we stay still long enough, everything around us changes and we’re left wondering what has happened.
The reality of our later years is that we do need to proactively seek opportunities to connect with people, strengthen relationships with loved ones and connect with a community.
Here are three ways to fire up your social health in your senior years:
Move into an instant community
If your neighbourhood no longer feels familiar, consider moving closer to family and friends.
For an instant community, retirement village living may be an option worth considering. Moving into a retirement village opens up a whole community of potential acquaintances or friendships and social and physical activities. At the same time, you can escape to the sanctuary of your own home, when you feel like it.
Reach out to loved ones regularly
If your adult children are buzzing about in their lives and feel time poor, you may be surprised at how much they may value an invitation to come around for a home cooked dinner after work, or enjoy a weekend picnic together.
Your friends may feel the same way. An invitation to catch up may be just what they need for their own social wellbeing! Don’t wait to be asked, or called. Take the initiative.
Become a volunteer or a student
Registering as a volunteer is a great way to grow strong community connections and friendships.
If you’re transitioning from full time paid work, or have now retired and miss the intellectual and social stimulation consider enrolling in a tertiary course, or a series of weekend workshops. This author has already decided that cooking schools combined with travelling is a retirement aspiration!
You won’t be alone in tertiary study over 55. As we enjoy longer, healthier lives, mature age students are on the increase. And with millennials expected to regularly change career paths, why shouldn’t you also dip your toe in a number of areas of interest too?
...did we mention that retirement village living connects residents to a whole community of potential connections?
Visit our brand new display villas in Main St Village, Pakenham. While retirement village living isn’t for everyone, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised! You’ll never know if you don’t take a look for yourself.