A recent study tracked the health of over 7,000 middle-aged and older Canadians for three years, investigating whether increased social activity led to better long-term health outcomes. The study found that individuals who engaged in leisure activities and volunteer work were more likely to maintain excellent health and less likely to experience cognitive, physical, emotional, or mental illnesses. To qualify as successfully aging, participants had to be free of any serious conditions that hindered daily activities while also reporting high levels of happiness and good health. Only individuals who qualified at the beginning of the study were monitored to determine if social participation played a role in maintaining their excellent health.
Findings from the study show that engaging in volunteer or recreational activities has a significant impact on successful aging. After three years, 72% of those who participated in such activities remained were aging successfully. In contrast, only two-thirds of those who abstained from such activities were found to not age gracefully by the end of the study. These results still hold true even after adjusting for sociodemographic factors. In fact, those who engaged in volunteer or charity work were 17% more likely to maintain excellent health, while those who participated in recreational activities were 15% more likely to do so.
While the study’s observational approach precludes definitive conclusions regarding causation, a clear connection seems to exist between social activity and thriving in old age. Maintaining social connectedness is vital regardless of age. It elevates mood, decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation, and positively impacts mental and overall well-being.
As a non-pharmacological intervention, medical professionals are embracing the concept of “social prescribing” to integrate primary care with services in the community. This approach can encourage older adults to engage in volunteer work and recreational activities, thus supporting their cognitive, mental, physical, and emotional well-being as they age. These findings are significant and valuable for older adults and their families who may assume that decline is a natural part of growing old. Therefore, to secure a healthy and vibrant future for older adults, it is essential for families, healthcare providers, policymakers, and researchers to work collaboratively towards creating an enabling environment.
Ultimately, the data highlights the importance of staying active and engaged in volunteer or recreational activities for successful aging.
To view the original scientific study click below:
A Profile of Social Participation in a Nationally Representative Sample of Canadian Older Adults: Findings from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging