Newswise — TORONTO, CANADA – An in-depth research examined over 7000 individuals in their middle and senior years over a span of around three years to explore the potential correlation between increased social engagement and successful aging during the later stages of life. The findings revealed that individuals engaged in voluntary endeavors and those partaking in leisurely pursuits exhibited higher chances of sustaining optimal well-being throughout the ensuing 3-year investigation period while demonstrating reduced likelihood of encountering physical, cognitive, psychological, or emotional difficulties.

The scientists characterized successful aging as the absence of significant impediments in daily activities caused by severe physical, cognitive, mental, or emotional ailments, alongside elevated levels of self-reported happiness, sound physical well-being, and mental health. Solely individuals who commenced the study with successful aging were considered for inclusion in the research. The primary objective was to investigate the potential correlation between social participation and the probability of sustaining excellent health.

Around 72% of the participants who engaged in volunteer or recreational activities during the initial phase of the study managed to maintain successful aging three years later. In contrast, only two-thirds of those who did not partake in these activities were aging successfully by the end of the study. After factoring in various sociodemographic factors, the results revealed that individuals involved in recreational activities and volunteer or charity work exhibited a 15% and 17% higher likelihood of sustaining excellent health throughout the study period, respectively.

"Although the study's observational design prevents the establishment of causality, it intuitively aligns with the notion that social engagement is linked to successful aging," stated Mabel Ho, the first author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW) and the Institute of Life Course and Aging. "Maintaining social activity holds significance regardless of our age. Feeling connected and involved can enhance our emotional well-being, diminish feelings of loneliness and isolation, and enhance our mental and overall physical health."

A growing number of medical practitioners are adopting "social prescribing" as a form of non-pharmacological intervention, which involves prescribing social activities for their patients. This approach integrates primary care with community services, aiming to promote overall well-being. In the context of older adults, social prescribing can be utilized to encourage engagement in volunteering and recreational activities. By incorporating these social endeavors into their lives, older individuals can reap the benefits of enhanced social connections, improved mental health, and a more active and fulfilling lifestyle.

"It is heartening to discover that there are means to foster the well-being of our physical, cognitive, mental, and emotional aspects as we grow older. This is excellent news for older adults and their families who may have previously believed that a significant decline is an unavoidable consequence of aging," expressed Esme Fuller-Thomson, the senior author of the study and Director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging, as well as a Professor at the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. "It is crucial for older adults, families, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to collaborate in order to establish an environment that promotes a vibrant and healthy later life."

The revised concept of successful aging introduced in this study represents a significant advancement, as it embraces a more comprehensive approach that encompasses both objective and subjective indicators of optimal aging. In earlier research on successful aging, individuals with any chronic health conditions were typically excluded from the category of "aging successfully." However, in this study, respondents could still be considered as "aging successfully" even if they had chronic illnesses, as long as they were able to engage in daily activities and were not hindered by disabling chronic pain. The revised definition also takes into account older adults' subjective perceptions of their aging process, physical health, mental health, and emotional well-being, including factors such as happiness and life satisfaction as self-reported by the individuals themselves. In contrast, previous studies often neglected the subjective experiences of older adults in their exploration of the aging process.

The study was recently published online in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It utilized longitudinal data obtained from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) during the baseline wave (2011-2015) and the first follow-up wave (2015-2018). The research aimed to investigate the factors associated with optimal aging. The CLSA data comprised a sample of 7,651 respondents who were 60 years of age or older during the second wave and were in excellent health during the baseline data collection period. It's worth noting that the sample was limited to only 45% of the respondents who met the criteria of excellent health at baseline.


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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health