AUSTIN, Texas — If you're an older adult, scientists say having some variety in your social circle can help you live longer.
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have found that older adults who spend more time interacting with a wide range of people were more likely to be physically active and had greater emotional well-being.
In a paper released Wednesday, in the "Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences," researchers found that study participants who interacted more with family members and close friends, as well as acquaintances, casual friends, service providers and even strangers were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity, less time spent sitting or lying around, greater positive moods and fewer negative feelings.
The study included more than 300 adults over 65 years old who lived in the Austin metro area and controlled for factors such as age, race, gender, marital status, education and ethnicity.
The researchers asked study participants about their activities and social encounters every three hours for about a week, and participants also wore electronic devices to monitor their physical activity.
“Adults often grow less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviors pose a risk factor for disease and death,” said Karen Fingerman, a professor of human development and family sciences at UT Austin and the director of the university’s new Texas Aging & Longevity Center. “It is difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to work out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barista who serves them at their favorite coffee shop."
"Prior 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,” said co-author Debra Umberson, sociology professor and director of UT Austin’s Population Research Center. “This new research relies on truly novel data that capture both the amount and quality of contact with all types of people that the elderly encounter throughout the day — and the results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for activity levels and psychological well-being. This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation.”