The Relationship Between Physical Activity and Loneliness in Older Adults

Older Adults© Tatiana Saavedra / diversifylens / Canva

Loneliness and social isolation are major problems among older adults. According to a recent study, physical activity may help reduce loneliness and social isolation in this population. The study found that older adults who were physically active had fewer feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Additionally, they had better mental health outcomes, including higher levels of psychological well-being. These findings suggest that physical activity can play an important role in promoting healthy aging.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, physical activity has taken a backseat in many people’s lives. Researchers from AARP Services Inc., UnitedHealthcare, and OptumLabs set out to answer two crucial questions – Could physical activity help to reduce social isolation and/or loneliness? In addition, could physical activity promote higher levels of resilience, purpose, or positive perception of aging? The findings from this research indicate that increased physical activity may be one way to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. This means that if people are more active, they will have more chances to meet other people and make friends, which will help them feel better about themselves and getting older.

Social Isolation in Older Adults

Social isolation is a phenomenon that occurs when an individual lacks meaningful social ties and experiences limited contact with other people. It is an increasingly common issue among older adults, and it can have a dramatic negative impact on their physical and mental health.

Causes of Social Isolation?

A variety of factors can contribute to social isolation among older adults. These include a lack of transportation, physical or cognitive impairments that make it difficult to interact with others, the death of friends or family members, financial constraints that limit mobility, relocation away from family members or friends, retirement or other life changes that lead to fewer interactions outside the home, and even technology-induced loneliness caused by too much time spent online instead of interacting with real people.

Effects of Social Isolation

Social isolation is a growing problem for older adults in today’s society—and one that carries serious consequences for both physical and mental health. It has been linked to a wide range of physical and mental health issues in older adults. It increases the risk for depression, anxiety disorders, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. It has even been linked to premature death due to its potential effects on overall wellbeing.

Older adults may experience social isolation due to many different factors. Some of these include physical disability; living in rural areas; having few sources of transportation; being unable to drive; losing family members; financial constraints; difficulty using technology; language barriers; being recently widowed; cultural differences; lack of access to community resources; poor nutrition/health status; lack of companionship/affection from others; and more.

Loneliness in Older Adults

Feeling lonely is a common experience for people at any age and can be difficult to understand. For older adults, loneliness can be complicated by age-related factors such as retirement, physical changes and the loss of loved ones. Let’s take a closer look at what loneliness really is and what it means for those who experience it.

What is Loneliness?

Loneliness can be a difficult emotion to understand but it’s important that we recognize it and take steps to address it when possible. It is more than just feeling sad or down—it’s an emotional state that can have real physical and mental health implications. It’s defined as the subjective feeling of social isolation or lack of meaningful connections with others, whether through physical proximity or online interactions. Studies suggest that loneliness can increase the risk of developing serious illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease, depression, anxiety and even dementia.

Impact of Loneliness on Seniors

Loneliness has been linked to a range of adverse effects in older adults. Physically, it can lead to an increased risk for hypertension, weakened immune systems, and decreased cognitive performance. Mentally, it can increase symptoms of depression and anxiety. Emotionally, it can lead to feelings of sadness and helplessness which may further lead to feelings like worthlessness or hopelessness.

Seniors who are lonely often struggle with social isolation as they age and may be surrounded more by memories than by living family members or friends. This lack of connection may cause them to lose touch with their sense of identity or purpose as well as their ability to engage in meaningful activities or conversations with others. In addition, loneliness increases the risk for poor nutrition due to lack of appetite or desire for social interaction while eating meals alone.

Physical Activity for Older Adults

It’s no secret that physical activity is important for overall health. But what exactly is physical activity? Physical activity is any form of movement that uses energy, like walking, gardening, or golfing. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three levels of physical activity intensity: low (0-2 days per week); moderate (3-4 days per week); and high (≥5 days per week).

Low Activity Level

A low level of physical activity can still have a positive impact on your overall health. Even just a few minutes a day can be beneficial, as it can improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. Low intensity activities also decrease the risk of falls by improving posture and balance, while also helping to manage chronic conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis. Furthermore, low intensity activities can help reduce stress levels and improve mental wellbeing.

Moderate Activity Level

For those who are able to do more than just a few minutes a day of physical activity, moderate-intensity activities are recommended. These activities include anything from jogging to dancing to swimming and more. Moderate activities increase heart rate, which helps lower the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. They also boost muscle strength and endurance. Additionally, moderate activity increases self-confidence from improved body image and better sleep quality due to increased energy levels throughout the day—allowing you to feel more energized in your daily life!

High Activity Level

If you’re able to sustain an intense level of physical activity several days out of the week then this is the best option for overall health benefits. High-intensity activities such as running or playing sports provide even more cardiovascular benefits than moderate ones because they raise your heart rate even higher and longer than other types of exercise do. High-intensity activities also improve muscle strength significantly faster than other types of exercise do since they require you to work harder against resistance or gravity in order to complete them—resulting in greater strength gains! Lastly, these types of exercises help burn calories quickly so that you can reach your fitness goals faster!

Physical activities at all levels offer many health benefits for older adults alike—from improved balance, coordination, flexibility; decreased risk of falls; reduced stress levels; improved mental wellbeing; increased cardiovascular health; boosted muscle strength; better sleep quality; improved body image; increased energy levels; faster calorie burning; and much more! No matter what type or level of physical activity you choose to engage in it will ultimately benefit you in some way or another so make sure you’re getting up off the couch today!

How Physical Activity Can Improve Your Health and Loneliness Levels

It turns out physical activity could be the key to improving your health and reducing loneliness. According to the research, moderate and high levels of physical activity are associated with significantly reduced rates of severe loneliness and social isolation. The same level of physical activity is also associated with improved feelings of resilience, purpose, and a positive perception of aging.

What Kind of Physical Activity Does the Research Refer To?

The research focused on the number of days per week a person would exercise—even something as simple as walking or gardening—not the intensity or duration of the exercise itself. It is important to note that any kind of physical activity can provide health benefits, regardless of age. However, it is essential to check with your doctor before making any changes in activity level.

How Does Physical Activity Help Mental Health?

Physical activity encourages endorphins (feel-good hormones) to be released in the body, which can reduce stress levels. In addition to this, regular physical activities can help you feel more connected with others, as you may join local fitness classes or take walks with friends or family members. On top of this, when people engage in physical activities they often experience a sense of accomplishment and mastery over their body’s ability—which can improve self-esteem and confidence levels. Finally, engaging in regular physical activities helps individuals develop friendships through shared interests which can help alleviate loneliness and social isolation.

The research found that moderate and high levels of physical activity were linked to lower loneliness rates and improved feelings related to mental wellbeing such as resilience, purpose and positive perceptions about aging. For older adults who want to maintain their independence for longer periods in life, but are feeling isolated due to current events or other factors, this research highlights how regular physical activities may be beneficial for them both physically and mentally. Before adding any kind of new exercises into your routine though, make sure you talk with your doctor about healthy ways to incorporate fitness into your life at any age!

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This article is intended for informational, entertainment or educational purposes only and should not be construed as advice, guidance or counsel. It is provided without warranty of any kind.