Friendship and Purpose

(Changes in lifestyle and outlook can affect longevity)

As we think about the prospect of living longer, millions of us are taking more responsibility for
our own health. We’re realizing that the choices we make each day are more important than
an occasional visit to the doctor’s office.
As a result, we’re seeking more and better information to help us make healthier decisions, and
tools for lifestyle changes that lead us toward physical and mental fitness and enhance our
well-being, not just treat our ailments.
But we also need to focus on things like building strong social connections and reducing
loneliness and social isolation, realizing a sense of purpose, and developing a more positive,
optimistic outlook on aging.
Social connections are important to your health. People with close friends are more likely to
get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods, maintain peace of mind and have less stress, engage in
brain health activities and take on new challenges or hobbies.
Loneliness is the new smoking—according to one researcher, it is equally as bad for you as
inhaling 15 cigarettes a day. Studies show that loneliness can shave eight years off life
expectancy, that it has a big negative effect on quality of life, and that it’s the single largest
predictor of dissatisfaction with health care. The mortality risk for loneliness is greater than
that of obesity. Social isolation of older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in
additional Medicare spending annually.
Having a purpose in life is also important to health as we get older and is a key factor in aging
successfully. A sense of purpose for many is more important than making money, and it’s
associated with a wide range of better health outcomes including reduced risk of mortality,
stroke, heart attack and Alzheimer’s disease. People with a sense of purpose also get better
sleep, have fewer nights of hospital admission and go to the doctor less often. And they are
more likely to take care of their health—to eat healthier, exercise more, avoid abusing drugs
and alcohol, and seek out better preventive health services.
Evidence also shows that optimism about aging has an impact on our health, adding 7.5 years
to our lives. Those with an upbeat view of aging are more likely to fully recover from a severe
disability and have up to an 80 percent lower risk of a cardiovascular event.
We’re discovering that changes in lifestyle and medical advances can increase our life-span and
shrink the number of years spent with a disability. But it’s also vital that we have something to
get us up in the morning and someone to share our lives with—and that we approach each day
with a smile.

(by Jo Ann Jenkins for AARP Bulletin, June 2018)