Ah, the meaningless relationship, the one-night stand, the love ’em and leave ’em; they’re all tied with youth. Those days of wine and roses before the reality of age sets in and we find ourselves faced with—horror of horrors—a life-long partner. Suddenly, we are one of them, the people we swore we’d never be: our parents! However, the reality is that aging will set in regardless of our behavior, and research shows that forming those more meaningful relationships may actually be helping to keep us younger. Read on to find out how meaningful relationships can help you age better.
With longer life expectancy comes the desire to age more successfully and with that comes an effort to promote healthy states in later life. Some think that the way to do this is to keep mentally and physically active, while others think that keeping social is more important for successful aging.
Research shows that as age increases, a person’s social network decreases. However, even though older adults may have smaller social circles, their relationships tend to be of higher quality.
Family, spouses and adult children, in particular, are thought to be a big source of support to the aging. Research shows that marriage has a positive effect on people’s psychological and physical states. In addition, married couples usually have larger social networks. Married couples tend to engage in social activities together and are invited out more, getting the opportunity to meet more people, and the evidence suggests that the more people you have around you, the happier you will be.
Social Relationships and Health
Additional research suggests that people around us have a big impact on our psychological and physical health. Relationships allow us to interact socially, and the research shows the support we receive can decrease risks of heart attacks, decline in cognition, depression and anxiety. One study found that people with good social relationships have a 50% lower rate of mortality than those with poor social interactions.
Social support may lower stress levels caused by life changes in middle age and also may increase sense of belonging and self esteem. Relationships with partners may model and encourage healthier behaviors, such as wearing a seatbelt and eating three square meals, during stressful periods of life.
Other findings show that support from others can increase feelings of independence. A 2006 study showed that those who received more social support tended to have lower blood and arterial pressure and reported feeling higher levels of self esteem and lower levels of depression.
Widowhood and Aging
Drawing on conclusions, it seems that if meaningful relationships promote physical and mental health, then the loss thereof can also affect us negatively. Indeed, spousal bereavement has shown to have a negative impact on health including weight fluctuations, overeating, increased smoking, and inactivity. Therefore it is important that individuals receive adequate social support after the loss of a spouse in order to return to the same levels of well being. Resilience can be achieved from drawing on society, psychology, and of course, strong meaningful relationships.
Tell us about your experiences with aging and social contact. How have the people around you helped to keep you young? We would love to hear from you.