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Study: How An Active Social Life Can Make You Happier And Healthier Later In Life

Alzheimer's

Time for another dose of encouragement to get social. Not just because it’s good for you now, or because it’s fun, but because it’s good for your future self, contributing to a better sense of wellbeing later in life, as a new study has shown.

Reported by Science Daily, new research that’s been published in the journal of Psychology and Aging has drawn considerable correlations between an active social life and sunnier disposition, particularly as we get older.

Arriving at this conclusion, a team of researchers analysed data from over 2,900 participants (all of whom are now deceased) in the nationwide German Socio-Economic Panel Study (48 percent of participants were women, with an average age of 74 when they died). From this German SOEP, which is a nationally representative annual longitudinal survey of approximately 30,000 adult residents in former West Germany from 1984 to 2013 and former East Germany from 1990 to 2013, the researchers were able to drill down into information on everything from employment to health and life-satisfaction indicators. For this, the participants would have answered the question ‘how satisfied are you with your life concurrently, all things considered?’ on a scale of 0 to 10. The researchers compared this data with their information on social participation, family goals, social goals and more.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that being socially active and having social goals were indeed linked with a higher sense of well-being later in life, but their focus on family goals were not. This association was independent of other relevant variables including age at death, gender, education as well as key health indicators (e.g., disability, hospital stays).

Explained by Gerstorf, the person who values social goals will have experienced a boost in well-being, linked with feelings of competence, concern for the wider public, the next generation and belonging. They also found that keeping active later in life also promoted self-esteem and improved physical and cognitive functioning.

“Our results indicate that living a socially active life and prioritizing social goals are associated with higher late-life satisfaction and less severe declines toward the end of life,” said study lead author Denis Gerstorf, PhD, of Humboldt University.

Also commenting on their findings, co-author Gert Wagner from the German Institute for Economic Research explains that “a socially engaged lifestyle often involves cognitive stimulation and physical activity, which in turn may protect against the neurological and physical factors underlying cognitive decline. Our results indicate that social orientation is related to maintaining well-being for as long as possible into the very last years of life.”

On the findings that suggest that those with family oriented goals did not enjoy the same lessening in decline later in life, Gerstorf puts down to the complexities of family dynamics.

“Family life is often a mixed bag and represents not only a source of joy, but also of worry and tensions, stress, and sorrow. For example, valuing one’s partner often makes people vulnerable to declines in well-being when the partner suffers from cognitive or physical limitations. Similarly, relationships with adult children can be ambivalent, especially when children differ in values and have not attained (in the eyes of their parents) educational and interpersonal success.”

In short, be social, be active, care about the wider community and those who’ll follow in your footsteps.

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