Staying healthy becomes more difficult as one gets older, but a new study has found that remaining socially active may lengthen the lifespan of retirees, perhaps even more so than exercise.
According to WebMD, Australian researchers recently published the report in the journal BMJ Open. The study concluded that retirees who stay active in book clubs, church groups, and other interpersonal activities tend to be happier than those who do not.
Additionally, those in their golden years who engage in such activities also benefit from a lower risk of premature death.
The study found that the chance of passing away within six years of retirement is 2% for people who are involved in two social groups. If a retiree leaves one of these groups, their risk of death increases to 5%. If they cease participation in both groups, the risk of premature death spikes to 12%.
“The sense of belonging that social group connections provide helps people sustain a meaningful and healthy life,” said lead researcher Niklas Steffens, a lecturer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
Experts have long said that the happiest retirees engage in three to four activities regularly, while the least happy engage in only one or two. This study backs up these claims, in addition to providing evidence that social interaction is just as important as physical exercise for retirees.
“The study reminds us of the importance of meaningful human interactions to our well-being. That social interaction appears comparable to physical activity is not a reason to substitute one for the other, but to do both,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Princeton Research Center.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, researchers examined 424 British adults over the age of 50 for six years after retirement to gather their data. They compared the happiness and lifespan of these individuals to those of their peers who were still in the workforce.
The study also assessed each subject’s physical activity levels, linking each person’s exercise habits to their risk of death.
Researchers found that a person who exercises once a week before and after retirement has only a 3% chance of dying in the six years after they retire. If a person who exercised during their career stopped doing so after retirement, their risk of death increases to 11% in this time span.
“Accordingly, we can see that the effects of physical activity on health were comparable to those associated with maintaining old group memberships and developing new ones,” the researchers wrote.
With this new research, retirees may begin to seek more of a balance between social interaction and physical exercise to live longer, happier lives.