How Friends Improve Health in Senior Living

There’s a reason the term “friends and family” go hand in hand. Since childhood, we relied on friendships for many things. Friends support us through good times and bad. Friends will lend a hand when we’re in need. Friends can give us purpose when we’re searching for meaning. And perhaps most importantly, friends make us laugh…even when we want to cry.

When we’re young, making friends is easy, but as we age, maintaining friendships can prove challenging. No longer in the workplace, school, and other social circles, the opportunities to meet people and make friends wane. Yet maintaining connections in life has been linked to greater health and wellness.

Socialization and Physical Health

For decades scientists have been studying the positive health effects of socialization, and as it turns out, friendships are much more important to our health than we tend to think. That’s because the act of socializing with friends requires increased physical activity. On the surface, it may seem insignificant, but over several years, a socially active lifestyle adds up to improvements in cardiovascular health.

Most recently, a study in The Journals of Gerontology found older adults who interact with people beyond their usual circle of family and friends are more likely to have higher levels of physical activity simply because they spend less time lounging at home and sedentary. Whether for lunch, coffee or a walk in the park, older adults with a robust social life tend to leave the house more often to meet other people. Increased activity created by social engagement equates to better health.

Socialization improves senior health in many ways, including:

  • Lower Stress – social interaction releases neurotransmitters in the brain that reduce anxiety and stress
  • Less Depression – People who live a more socially active life report higher overall well-being late in life
  • Higher Self-Esteem – friends increase our sense of belonging and purpose, building self-esteem
  • Increased Fitness – a strong social support network encourages seniors get out and about more often, thereby boosting fitness levels
  • Improved Cognition – social interactions keep seniors intellectually engaged and mentally “sharp”
  • Longer Lifespan – backed by research, a robust social life can add years to our lives


Socialization and Longevity

Like diet and exercise, friendship can also extend your life.

A group known by social behaviorists as “SuperAgers,” people aged 80 and above who have the mental agility of much younger people, credit social engagement for their youthful mental strength. Researchers from the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found close friendships later in life prevented mental decline.

Developmental psychologist Susan Pinker in the book The Village Effect came to similar conclusions, claiming that social interaction is not only necessary for human happiness, but can also help us live longer. An expert in the emerging field of social neuroscience, she asserts that humans are hard-wired to connect to other human beings and form bonds that teach us, help us, heal us, and extend life.

Watch this video about how personal relationships can help you live to 100 years and beyond.

Socialization and Emotional Health

Friendships are scientifically proven to improve mental health by reducing the adverse effects of stress. Simply making eye contact with another human being is known to release neurotransmitters in the brain that reduce anxiety, relax us and make us, well, feel good.

According to a study published in Psychology and Aging, older adults who live a socially active life are more “satisfied” with life and experience less decline toward the end of life. The author, Dr. Denis Gerstorf, correlates satisfaction and fulfillment with one’s sense of belonging to a social network.

This has certainly been our experience in senior living! In fact, many older adults move to a senior living community to meet people of the same age with similar interests. Becoming part of a community gives residents a sense of purpose while promoting physical activity and social participation in life enrichment activities. It’s a win-win.

At Sonata Senior Living, residents often say they are motivated to stay active when daily activities are offered. While they may or may not have had the energy to attend a fitness class that day, the fact that it is happening—sometimes just down the hall—is motivation to attend.

Among the many social benefits offered by senior living communities, the constant availability of activities, events, and classes keeps older adults intellectually stimulated, leading to greater well-being. Add to that the convenience of having a maintenance-free lifestyle, chef-prepared meals and built-in wellness services, and senior living ticks all the boxes required for healthy aging and longevity.

Socialization and Cognitive Function

Friends can even make you smarter.

A socially engaged lifestyle involves cognitive stimulation and physical activity, which in turn offers protection against the neurological and physical factors underlying cognitive decline.

In 2021, researchers at the Center For Healthy Aging at Penn State measured the brain’s processing speed and attention and discovered older adults who interacted more frequently with friends were more likely to perform better on cognitive tests. The study, published in ScienceDaily, found adults who are deprived of social experiences increase their risk for cognitive decline later in life. Conversely, older adults who stay socially engaged reap the benefits of improved memory and cognition.

Loneliness and Alzheimer’s Disease

A social life is important to most people, but more so to older adults who are at risk of cognitive decline. Think of friendship as a form of self-care, equally important as eating a nutritious diet and exercising.

Older adults that age at place in the family home are at greater risk of social isolation. Social isolation and loneliness can increase one’s chance of developing emotional and physical illnesses including heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Loneliness has also been tied to an increase in anxiety, depression, and even risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Senior Living Communities and Socialization

The easiest way to maintain a healthy social life in retirement is by moving to a senior living community. Senior living communities come with a built-in social network of friends and caregivers as well as daily activities designed to keep older adults mentally, physically, and intellectually engaged.

From participating in social activities to interacting with family and friends, socializing is a critical part of staying healthy and happy as we age and one of many reasons why older adults move to an independent or assisted living community like Sonata Senior Living.

Learn more about the award-winning independent and assisted living at Sonata Senior Living and schedule a tour today.


Visit Sonata Senior Living and find out how personalized programming in assisted living promotes independence and well-being.