A lot of older adults become homebodies, but that’s not the healthiest lifestyle over the long term. It’s normal to take time off and relax when you retire. However, it’s sadly all too common for seniors to find themselves in a rut.
If every day is spent on the same routine parked in front of the TV or puttering around the home, with a trip to the store or the local urgent care the only variety, you could be missing out on what the golden years can be. A great retirement isn’t just about physical comfort. It’s about getting engaged in what you care about as you build and strengthen your connections.
Social Support Networks
There’s a distinct trend as we age to have a shrinking social network. Family members may pass away. Friendships fizzle out as people grow in different directions. After retirement, that ready-made network of coworkers you see every day is gone.
It can take time and conscious effort to reverse this trend. However, if you grow your network, you’ll enjoy many benefits. Friendship isn’t just a cure for loneliness. The network can boost your physical and mental health in many ways.
Multiple studies have shown that seniors who report a high quality of life stay engaged with the world around them. Some find opportunities to learn new skills. Others spend their days exploring local green spaces on foot. Retirees even ‘go back to work’ by volunteering at a charity they care about. Such groups reported greater happiness, lower stress levels, and increased mobility and independence as they aged. The common thread here is the human touch.
Social networks are rarely passive. It’s not enough to send an occasional text to a loved one. Real human connections are built when you actively interact with people who have similar values and interests. The great thing about staying plugged into the world is that you are naturally building connections with the people you meet.
Keep bumping into the same neighborhood as you walk in the park? Maybe the community education teacher was born in your hometown? You may have met your future dearest friends. These friendships are a key part of senior social networks. In fact, research suggests that the deep friendships you develop later in life are just as meaningful and health-protecting as family bonds.
Building a Network
How to grow your social network? Start small and start local, like in your neighborhood. Is there a park you can stroll in? Can you join a Facebook group for Tai Chi every weekend? What about meeting people at local coffee shops, golf courses, or dog parks?
If this isn’t working out, see if you can tap into community networks for seniors who want to socialize. For instance, many local seniors’ centers and libraries will have bulletin boards up. These boards announce upcoming events, which can range from Bingo nights to seniors’ dancing.
The internet is a powerful tool for making connections, especially as almost all Americans plan now to age in place at home rather than in an assistive community. You may be able to find a good group online via apps like Meetup and Nextdoor.
Facebook can help you join virtual movie-watch parties over Skype or Zoom. Many dating apps also have separate sections for making friends. These include Bumble BFF and Ablo, which lets you chat with people worldwide and automatically translates their language for you.
If your social skills are a bit rusty, it can seem intimidating to just jump into book clubs, charity events, and the like. Baby steps may be more your speed. Start with something you’re only slightly nervous about, such as making small talk with a neighbor or calling a relative. Then work your way up to bigger tasks like dropping by a card game night at the senior’s center.
Struggling to make tech work for you? A senior’s tech class can give you the tools you need to navigate your phone, social media, and video calls. As a bonus, you may bump into other older adults in that class who are also learning the new technology to make new friends.
What if you aren’t sure you have the free time to get out there and meet people? Take a look at your schedule. Can you free up an hour or two a week and build from there? Next, look at your budget. Maybe you could afford grocery delivery so you don’t have to spend hours in the store.
Finally, some seniors find they have no spare energy to get out of their rut. In that case, you may want to contact a healthcare provider to look into your physical and mental health. Depression and some medical conditions can make it hard to accomplish anything beyond the bare minimum. These conditions will hold you back until you figure out how to treat them.
Plug Into the Human Experience
Humans are social animals. We thrive with a close social network and suffer without one. However, you don’t need to be a social butterfly to enjoy the human connection. A few close friendships can be even more meaningful than a packed social calendar.
It can be intimidating to break out of your comfort zone. However, that zone can also act like walls, keeping you locked away from the outside world. When you step out of the comfortable daily routine, you throw the door open to experience new things and meet amazing people on their own journeys.