Your social connections play a critical role in mental and physical health in retirement. Scientists know that humans are not meant to be socially isolated — we thrive when we have strong and meaningful relationships with others. Maintaining and growing your social connections is key to a happy post-retirement life.
Why Are Social Connections Important in Retirement?
Healthy social connections are critical to a happy life in retirement. Your connections are never more important for your mental and emotional health than they are when you’re in your golden years. And, unfortunately, those years are also when social connections are hardest to maintain.
At their most basic levels, humans are social creatures. We naturally crave the company of others and are happiest when we have it. Built-in social connections fill our daily lives, and young and unretired adults often take for granted how much social interaction they experience.
But when you retire, maintaining those connections can become a lot more difficult. Common experiences shared by seniors — including the lack of daily obligations to leave home, loss of coworker interactions, dwindling friend groups and the death of loved ones — can quickly lead to social isolation.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a quarter of adults 65 or older feel socially isolated. Missing out on these social connections can lead to many serious issues.
How Do Social Connections Impact Your Health?
Your health and happiness are both intertwined with the strength of your social connections. Falling into social isolation or failing to grow your social circle can have serious health and well-being implications.
According to the National Institute of Health, having social ties is linked to living a longer life. Humans truly feed off their social connections. You can prolong your lifespan and lower the risk for certain health conditions, like heart disease, by fostering your relationships.
Inversely, social isolation is linked to poor health and higher rates of premature death. As strange as it may sound, being socially active is almost like medicine that can keep you healthier longer.
The strength of your social connections also directly affects your mental health. Maintaining friendships and socializing regularly can help prevent serious mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, in older adults.
Research shows that socialization plays a key role in well-being — people simply aren’t meant to be alone. Those who are socially isolated may see serious mental health repercussions stemming from their lack of regular contact with others.
But maintaining social connections and relationships can keep your stress levels down and make you feel happier and more fulfilled daily.
Where Can You Make New Social Connections?
There are plenty of avenues toward making new social connections in retirement. One simple option to consider, especially if you’re recently retired, is to look into a part-time job. You can work flexible hours in a field that is fulfilling to you while increasing your day-to-day social interactions.
A part-time job is a great and easy way to meet coworkers, especially if the job has other similarly aged employees. This strategy also has the added benefit of getting you out of the house and giving a healthy structure to your calendar.
You may also enjoy joining hobby clubs or groups. These can include anything from book clubs and hiking clubs to RV and cruise travel groups. Hobby clubs are an easy way to meet like-minded people and make new friends. You can search online for clubs near you for ideas.
If you have the financial ability and the interest, many seniors find retirement communities to be a fulfilling way to grow their late-in-life social connections. Living with other people close to your own age and being surrounded by countless activities and pastimes makes it easy and fun to get to know new people.
How Do You Maintain Current Social Connections?
A key part of preventing social isolation is maintaining your current social connections, especially during retirement.
It’s easy to fall out of habits when your routine changes, but you’ll benefit from making a concerted effort toward seeing friends and keeping social events on your schedule.
The biggest thing to remember is that maintaining your current social connections involves making a conscious effort. Don’t wait for people to come to you — you have the power to keep your social life healthy and active.
It’s common for new retirees to realize that they don’t enjoy having all the free time they find themselves with. If you have friends or acquaintances who are retiring around the same time as you, suggest some activities to do together. Even something as simple as seeing a friend for lunch every week can make all the difference in maintaining that social connection.
And remember that growing and maintaining your relationships doesn’t mean that you have to be extremely extroverted or committed to daily face-to-face interactions. In the age of technology, there are countless new ways to stay connected with loved ones digitally.
3 Cited Research Articles
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, April 29). Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html
- Mayo Clinic News Network. (2019, April 19). Mayo Clinic Minute: The benefits of being socially connected. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-the-benefits-of-being-socially-connected
- National Institute of Health. (n.d.). Do Social Ties Affect Our Health? Retrieved from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/02/do-social-ties-affect-our-health