February is the season of love and romance—not to mention cards, cupids and couples. But even if you’re not in a romantic relationship, or have recently lost a spouse, Valentine’s Day is also a reminder of why we should celebrate the importance of friendship and connecting with loved ones in our lives.
Research has shown that there is a definite link between meaningful social connections and improved health and longevity. In fact, the U.S. National Institutes of Health reported that even a simple hug can lower blood pressure and increase levels of oxytocin, a powerful feel-good hormone that plays a role in our bonding process. They cited a University of North Carolina study that showed that women who hugged their partners the most each day had higher oxytocin levels and 10 mm/Hg lower blood pressure than those who didn’t. The lead researcher, Dr. Kathleen C. Light, believes that the health boost from hugs isn’t limited to married couples either, but applies to anyone—even when speaking via phone or email— with whom you feel a bond.
For women, having friends may even make the difference between life or death. A 2006 study of almost 3,000 nurses with breast cancer concluded that women without close friends were four times more likely to succumb to the disease than women with 10 or more friends. Interestingly, the study found that having a spouse wasn’t connected with survival the way friends were.
But if you have lost a spouse, it can be difficult to make new friends, especially if you are shy by nature. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone can be the key to starting new relationships. Older adults who live in a retirement residence have many opportunities to meet new people, whether during meals, an exercise class or even while out on an outing to a play or local attraction. It’s not surprising, then, that a senior living community can be the setting for many different kinds of relationships. From companionship and romance to friendship, opportunities to live life to the fullest among friends abound, and can only benefit seniors’ social health and wellness.
Learn more about the recreational opportunities offered at a Chartwell retirement residence, including our “Ports of Call” social program, here.