Staying socially active in your twilight years could be the key to living longer, new research suggests.
Older people who socialized daily, weekly or monthly were significantly more likely to live longer than those who socialized the least or not at all, a study found.
Experts believe that spending time with friends and family can relieve stress and encourage people to be more physically active.
Researchers at Sichuan University West China Hospital looked at data from 28,563 Chinese people who were asked about their social habits as part of a long-term study, with responses in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2014.
The image shows an elderly couple socializing. During the first five years of the study, 25,406 people said they did not engage in social activities, 1,379 said sometimes; 693 said at least once a month, 553 at least once a week and 532 almost daily
At the start of the study, they were 89 years old on average and were asked how often they participated in social activities, with answers such as almost every day, not daily, but at least once a week; not weekly, but at least once a month; not monthly, but sometimes; and never. Survival was tracked for an average of five years or until people died.
During the first five years of the study, 25,406 people said they did not engage in social activities, 1,379 said sometimes; 693 said at least once a month, 553 at least once a week and 532 almost daily.
Throughout the study, 21,161 (74 percent) people died, 15,728 of whom died within the first five years.
In the first five years, after adjusting for factors such as gender, age, diet and whether someone was married, the death rates were 18.4 per 100 people who never socialized, 8.8 among those who occasionally did, 8.3 among those who socialized at least monthly, 7.5 among those who socialized at least once a week and 7.3 among those who socialized almost every day.
Therefore, people were less likely to die the more they socialized, according to the findings published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
In the first five years, compared to people who never socialized, those who socialized sometimes had a significantly longer overall survival time.
But it was even higher among those who socialized not daily but at least once a week, and among those who did so almost every day.
However, these effects seemed to wear off after five years, with only socializing nearly every day having an effect in those who managed to live that long.
The authors said: ‘This study found that frequent participation in social activities was associated with a longer overall survival time.
‘From baseline (start of study) to five years of follow-up, the more frequent the social activity, the longer the survival time.
“However, after five years of follow-up, there was a threshold effect regarding the association between frequency of social activity and overall survival time, and only engaging in social activity almost every day could significantly increase overall survival time.”
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 servings of different fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Basic meals based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole grains
• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is equivalent to eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat muesli biscuits, 2 thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and a large baked potato with skin
• Provide dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks) and choose lower-fat, lower-sugar options
• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 servings of fish per week, one of which is fatty)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume in small quantities
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water per day
• Adults should have less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide