How senior living communities can help you live longer
Although more and more people go online to shop, to network and even to date, the key to happiness and longevity might lie in such old-fashioned habits as connecting with others in person. The importance of interacting with people is neither lost on the centenarians (age 100 or older) who live at Holiday Retirement communities, nor on the people who have created these social environments that allow seniors to live the fullest―and sometimes the longest―life possible.
Why social interaction is crucial
Research backs up Holiday Retirement’s belief in the significance of socialization. For instance, a review of 148 studies on the connection between social relationships and mortality, finds that participants with stronger social relationships have a whopping 50 percent increased likelihood of survival. Indeed, the authors conclude that loneliness, which seniors are particularly susceptible to, is as bad for your health as smoking.
While loneliness may seem prevalent at first glance, there are areas in the world where isolation is not such an issue, including five communities, called blue zones, where people commonly live active lives past the age of 100. In all these zones, strong social connections appear to play a role in promoting long life. In Okinawa, Japan, for instance, residents are traditionally put into “moais,” long-lasting committed social networks, by their parents. Family and community are also vital in another blue zone:, the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Author Susan Pinker argues in The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier and Happier that close-knit relationships have influenced the islanders’ longevity.
Although one of the blue zones is located in the United States (in Loma Linda, California), overall life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than in other industrialized nations. Still, the number of American centenarians is growing and is expected to swell as baby boomers age. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 72,197 U.S. centenarians in 2014, compared to 50,281 centenarians in 2000. Although no statistics exist on the number of centenarians who have chosen senior living, there is no doubt that some do live in retirement communities.
Centenarians speak out
In a quest to find out more about its centenarians, Holiday Retirement surveyed 68 of its oldest community members. This resulted in “100 Years of Wisdom: The Perspective of Centenarians,” an e-book of the centenarians’ thoughts, opinions and words of wisdom on hot-button issues from marriage and politics to the youth of today.
Interestingly, these residents, the oldest of whom was 105 at the time of polling, place a large importance on the value of social interactions. Most (84 percent) attribute their health and happiness to spending time with family, while spending time with friends and neighbors was third on the list (65 percent), just slightly under physical activity (66 percent). Furthermore, more than one-third of respondents would spend more time with loved ones, if they had the chance to do it all over again, and four out of five felt living in a retirement community had contributed to their longevity.
The impact of laughter
It isn’t surprising that the centenarians enjoy senior living, given that these communities are as close as you can get in modern America to a tightly knit village. Although senior living residents reside in their own apartments, communal spaces are scattered throughout these communities, which makes socializing natural and fluid. Residents also have ample opportunity to chat with each other over meals and during fun-filled community activities like chair volleyball, kazoo band practice and “senior” proms.
Coincidentally, laughter and staying engaged in activities are two of the traits that researchers found in a study of people ages 95 to 112 and their children. Most of the individuals studied in the Longevity Genes Project considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network, reports Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, and co-corresponding author of the study.
Although a swath of factors can contribute to longevity (optimistic attitude, healthy body weight, avoidance of smoking) strong social bonds seem to be a crucial component. In a society where more and more older people are living alone, far away from family members, it’s reassuring to know that there is a social alternative.
Would you like to find out more about the perspectives of centenarians? Download “100 Years of Wisdom: Perspective of Centenarians”and its accompanying infographic.