Last week I was invited to talk to about 25 women who are members of a group called “SOLOS.” The acronym is for Single Outstanding Ladies Offering Support. They asked me talk about my book Food & Fitness After 50 and when I looked around I realized that many of the women were in their 70s, 80s, and beyond. It reminded me of what a wise physician once said, “When I see patients who are 85, I ask their advice!”
I quickly learned that the group really is all about supporting each other by coming together monthly for friendship, fellowship, fun, and a little education thrown in, too. While many older adults know the value of eating well and moving well, they might not know as much about the science of being well. Social support is a major part of being well. The Encyclopedia of Sociology goes so far to say that “social support is a powerful predictor of living a healthy and long life.”
Positive Power of Social Support
Early as a species, we survived and prospered by developing social bonds to provide protection and assistance. Social science research shows that being lonely and not having positive social relationships harms the brain’s executive functioning or the mental skills that help the brain organize and act on information. Lack of social support can also impair sleep, and physical and mental well-being. These effects contribute to higher rates of disease and death in lonely older adults.
During my talk, I discussed the benefit of exercise that improves heart and lung function. Many older adults walk, but I encouraged them to increase their walking pace to get the heart pumping and the lungs working a bit harder than they would during a leisurely stroll. One woman commented that she recently fell and is now concerned about going out for a walk. Immediately, the SOLOS did what they do best, offered support. One suggested using walking poles for balance, another mentioned flat walking paths around the local botanical gardens, and a third talked about a park in the next town with good paths. I’m sure by the end of the meeting, someone had arranged to walk with her to ease her fears.
What Makes Us Happy?
Robert Waldinger, Director of The Harvard Study of Adult Development, describes what makes a good life in his TEDx talk. It isn’t wealth, or even health that make people happy….it is the relationships they develop throughout life that bring them the most joy. I would say the SOLOS have tapped into something powerful to help them to optimal aging.
More tips on being well, including social support, getting restful sleep, and managing stress is found in Food & Fitness After 50, available on Amazon.