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Study touts importance of staying socially engaged

June 20, 2012

Staying socially active is an important part of healthy aging, and results of a recent study show just how true that is. A report from the University of California, San Francisco, found older adults who have feelings of loneliness are more likely to die earlier than their peers and experience certain physical limitations.

The study looked at more than 1,600 adults over 60 during the course of six years. Researchers asked them to discuss how often they experienced feelings of loneliness or feeling left out. Around 43 percent reported feeling lonely, with 13 percent saying it was a frequent occurrence. By the end of the study in 2008, 24.8 percent of seniors who said they were lonely reported having troubles with activities of daily living. Around 12.5 percent of those who were not lonely said the same.

"There is growing evidence that both loneliness and social isolation are related to biological processes that may increase health risk, including changes in immune and inflammatory processes and disruption of the stress-related hormones," Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at London's University College, told The New York Times.

The importance of social engagement is raised for seniors who may have relocated, but research shows retirement communities that offer social opportunities can help older adults stay healthy later in life.

Some of the most compelling evidence that supports the role of social engagement comes from Harvard University researcher Thomas Glass. His study focused on more than 2,760 older adults over the course of 13 years and he surmised that staying socially engaged, whether it be through gardening, cooking or shopping, can help stave off cognitive decline and prolong a person's life, the Naples Daily News reports.