The Secret to Living Longer… Get Social

Workplace happy hours aren’t just fun… they help you live longer.

We’ve warned you before about the dangers of isolation in retirement. Cutting yourself off from social situations leads to depression, one of the growing health concerns for folks 65 and older.

According to two new studies from Brigham Young University, the problem is greater than we think. Loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of early death by as much as 50%.

Lead author in the study, Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad explained it isn’t just an American problem. “Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a ‘loneliness epidemic,'” she told Medical News Today.

She goes on to explain that most social situations for adults stem from the workplace… which is why planning for retirement should also include social activities.

One reason we’re concerned about this “loneliness epidemic” is that evidence points to loneliness and isolation contributing to Alzheimer’s.

An important paper out last year in JAMA Psychiatry found a connection between higher levels of amyloid plaques and stronger feelings of loneliness.

Amyloid plaques form when there is too much clumping of a brain protein called beta-amyloid. These plaques are toxic to neurons.

Here’s the problem, though… higher levels of loneliness may be a sign of Alzheimer’s or it could be a contributing factor. It’s likely a bit of both. That means not being active socially or challenging your mind could lead to a buildup of plaques. Or, the plaque buildup could start to weigh on you emotionally and keep you from going out and socializing.

Even more startling… loneliness affects our immune systems, too. Research from the University of Chicago found that loneliness triggers an immune response. That’s because loneliness affects the stress system in our brains. All that chronic stress signals to our immune system to gear up and raise inflammation levels.

We already know inflammation causes chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. And there’s some evidence it may contribute to dementia and Alzheimer’s as well.

Remaining social and active after retirement is crucial to our overall health. Not going to work means a lack of structure in our routines and makes it easier to stay inside instead of forcing ourselves to be out and about.

One of the best ways to fight depression and keep your brain sharp is behavioral activation. The idea is to create a schedule for yourself that is easy to follow. Starting with smaller goals can help you feel more accomplished and less depressed.

Schedule time for fun activities and be sure to include socialization. Join a gardening club or a bowling league, or volunteer for a local cause. If you find yourself wanting to cancel plans, ask a friend to help keep you accountable.

One option we’ve recommended before: Consider going back to school. Many community colleges offer classes in a wide range of subjects for the retirement crowd. You can keep your mind sharp and also make new friends. We know a woman in her fifties who loves taking art classes and even entered a few contests.

And remember my favorite way to reduce inflammation, combat depression, and fight stress: meditation. Several studies demonstrate that meditation not only helps with these problems, but also reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Socializing is one of the best ways to ward off depression and dementia in retirement. Keep in mind too, that according to one study, about two-thirds of folks saying they were lonely were married or living with a partner. As we mentioned last week, retirement puts a lot of stress on a couple… Be sure to work with your spouse to strengthen your relationship as well.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
August 8, 2017