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Volunteering And Staying Social Are Important To Health In Later Years

1 year ago

7007  0
Posted on Jun 08, 2023, 6 p.m.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto, solitude may be nice periodically but nurturing those social bonds is an important part of human health and behavior, especially in later years. 

For this study the team of researchers followed over 7,000 middle-aged and older adults for close to 3 years, finding that those who participated in volunteer work and recreational activities were more likely to also maintain good health over the study period, and they were less likely to suffer a range of physical, cognitive, mental or emotional problems. 

In this study, successful aging was defined as having high levels of self-reported happiness, good physical health, and mental well-being while being free from any physical, mental, cognitive, or emotional conditions and/or hindrances that can prevent older adults from doing day-to-day activities. Only those who were considered to be successfully aging at enrollment were included in this study, and the end goal was to determine if social participation has a connection with the increased likelihood of maintaining good health. 

Results revealed that close to 72% of the participants who took part in volunteer work or recreational activities at the beginning of the study were still aging successfully three years later, and only two-thirds of those who were not engaging in these activities were aging successfully at the end of the study period. After adjusting for a range of sociodemographic characteristics the results still suggested that those who took part in recreational activity (15%)  and volunteer/charity work (17%) were more likely to maintain good health over the study period. 

“Although the study’s observational nature prohibits the determination of causality, it makes intuitive sense that social activity is associated with successful aging,” says first author, Mabel Ho, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) and the Institute of Life Course and Aging. “Being socially active is important no matter how old we are. Feeling connected and engaged can boost our mood, reduce our sense of loneliness and isolation, and improve our mental health and overall health.”

Medical professionals are beginning to prescribe social activity to their patients, the social prescribing is a non-pharmacological intervention that integrates primary care with community services to help encourage older adults to become more social by engaging in volunteering and/or recreational activities. 

“It is encouraging that there are ways to support our physical, cognitive, mental, and emotional well-being as we age. This is wonderful news for older adults and their families who may anticipate that precipitous decline is inevitable with age,” explains senior author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging and a professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “It is important for older adults, families, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to work together to create an environment that supports a vibrant and healthy later life.”

Successful aging introduced in this study is an updated and modified concept that is more inclusive than what was used in earlier studies and encompasses objective and subjective measures of optimal aging. In this version, even those with chronic illness could still be considered as aging successfully as long as they were engaging in various daily activities and were free from disabling chronic pain. This version also accounts for the individual’s subjective perception of their aging process, physical health, mental health, and self-reported emotional well-being.  

Additionally, this study utilized longitudinal data from the baseline wave (2011-2015) and the first follow-up wave (2015-2018) of data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). The CLSA featured 7,651 respondents 60 years or older at wave two who were in optimal health during the baseline phase of data collection. The sample was limited to individuals considered in excellent health at baseline (45% of respondents).

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.

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