It is often said that variety is the salt of life, and now scientists say that variety in our social circle can help us live longer. Researchers at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin, United States, found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people are more likely to be physically active and have greater emotional well-being.
In a document published this Wednesday in Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, the researchers found that study participants who interacted more with family and close friends, as well as acquaintances, occasional friends, service providers and strangers they were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, less time spent sitting or lying down, more positive mood and less negative feelings.
“Adults often become less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviors represent a risk factor for disease and death,” says Karen Fingerman, professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at UT Austin and principal of the new Center for Aging and Longevity of the University of Texas.
“It’s hard to convince people to go to the gym or commit to regular exercise, but they may be willing to communicate with acquaintances, attend an organized group event or talk to the waiter who serves them in their favorite cafeteria.” Socialization in these contexts can also increase physical activity and various behaviors in ways that benefit health without necessarily making them sweat, “he adds.
The scientists asked the study participants about their activities and social encounters every three hours for about a week. Participants also carried electronic devices to control their physical activity. Fingerman and the team observed that during the three-hour periods in which the participants interacted with a wider variety of social partners, they reported that they had participated in a greater variety of activities, such as leaving the house, walking, talking with others or going Shopping. They also engaged in a more objectively measured physical activity and spent less time being sedentary.
Previous studies have shown that close social ties, such as family and close friends, can be beneficial for older adults by providing a buffer against stress and improving emotional well-being. The researchers had not examined physical activity or the benefits of more peripheral social links.
This work showed that links with acquaintances or peripheral ties can encourage older adults to be more physically active, a key factor that has been shown to contribute to physical and emotional health as well as cognitive ability. We evaluated more than 300 adults over 65 who lived in the Austin metropolitan area and controlled for factors such as age, race, gender, marital status, education, and ethnicity.
“Older adults can be more sedentary with their close friends and family: sitting and watching television or resting at home,” Fingerman says. “But to relate to acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get out of the house. chair to open the door. ”
“Previous research on aging has focused almost entirely on the benefits of social connection with close social ties, such as a spouse or an adult child,” says co-author Debra Umberson, professor of Sociology and director of the Research Center of Population of UT Austin.
“This new research is based on truly novel data that gathers the quantity and quality of contact with all the types of people the elderly meet during the day, and the results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for the elderly. levels of activity and psychological well-being This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation “, concludes Umberson.