How to live longer: The key to long life REVEALED by new study

Having a wide circle of friends keeps pensioners active and healthy for longer, a new study has suggested. It’s often said that variety is the spice of life, and now scientists say variety in your social circle may help you live longer. American researchers have shown 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. They found that pensioners who interacted more with family members and close friends, as well as acquaintances, casual friends, service providers and 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, published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, is the first to link social engagement with physical activity throughout the day.

Professor Karen Fingerman, of The University of Texas at Austin, said: “Adults often grow less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviours pose a risk factor for disease and death.

“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 organised group event, or talk to the barrista who serves them at their favourite coffee shop.

“Socialising in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviours in ways that benefit health without necessarily working up a sweat.”

The study included more than 300 adults over 65 years old who lived in the Austin metropolitan area and controlled for factors such as age, race, gender, marital status, education and ethnicity.

The researchers asked the participants about their activities and social encounters every three hours for about a week. They also wore electronic devices to monitor their physical activity.

Prof Fingerman and the team observed that during the three-hour periods when participants were engaging with a greater variety of social partners, they reported engaging in a greater variety of activities such as leaving the house, walking, talking with others, or shopping.

They also engaged in more objectively measured physical activity, and spent less time sitting down.

Previous studies have shown that close social ties, like family and close friends, can be beneficial to older adults by providing a buffer against stress and improving emotional well-being.

Researchers had not examined physical activity or the benefits of more peripheral social ties.

The new study showed those acquaintances or peripheral ties may encourage older adults to be more physically active, a key factor that has been shown to contribute to physical and emotional health, as well as cognitive ability.

Prof Fingerman said: “Older adults may be able to be more sedentary with their close friends and family – sitting and watching TV or otherwise lounging at home.

“But to engage with acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get up out of their chair to answer the door.”

Co-author Professor Debra Umberson, director of University of Texas Austin’s Population Research Centre, said: “Prior research on ageing has focused almost entirely on the benefits of social connection with close social ties such as a spouse or an adult child.

“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.”

She added: “This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation.”

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