Carried out by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, the new study looked at more than 300 adults over 65 years of age and asked them to report on their activities and social encounters every three hours for around one week, as well as wear electronic devices to record their physical activity.
The findings, due to be published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, showed that participants who reported interacting with a greater variety of people were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity and spent less time being sedentary.
This includes family members, close friends, casual friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
In addition, they also reported more positive moods and less negative feelings.
Although previous research has already found a link between close social ties – such as with family and close friends – and improved emotional well-being, the new study is the first to look at the link between social engagements, including the more peripheral social ties, and physical activity.
“Prior research on ageing has focused almost entirely on the benefits of social connection with close social ties such as a spouse or an adult child,” said co-author Debra Umberson
This new research relies on truly novel data that capture both the amount and quality of contact with all types of people that the elderly encounter throughout the day.
The results show us that these routine encounters have important benefits for activity levels and psychological well-being. This new information suggests the importance of policies and programs that support and promote routine and informal social participation.
“Adults often grow less physically active and more sedentary as they age, and these behaviours pose a risk factor for disease and death,” added co-author Karen Fingerman.
“It is difficult to convince people to go to the gym or commit to working out on a regular basis. But they may be willing to reach out to acquaintances, attend an organized group event, or talk to the barista who serves them at their favourite coffee shop.
Socialising in these contexts also can increase physical activity and diverse behaviours in ways that benefit health without necessarily working up a sweat.”
“Older adults may be able to be more sedentary with their close friends and family – sitting and watching TV or otherwise lounging at home.
But to engage with acquaintances, older adults must leave the house, or at least get up out of their chair to answer the door.”