Staying socially active in your twilight years could be the key to living longer, new research suggests.
Older people who socialised daily, weekly or monthly had a significantly greater chance of a longer life than those who socialised the least or not at all, a study found.
Experts believe spending time with friends and family can relieve stress as well as encourage people to be more physically active.
Researchers from Sichuan University West China Hospital looked at data for 28,563 Chinese people who were asked about their socialising habits as part of a long-term study, with answers provided in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011 and 2014.
Image shows elderly couple socialising. Over the first five years of the study, 25,406 people said they did not engage in any social activities, 1,379 said sometimes; 693 said at least once a month, 553 at least once a week and 532 almost daily
Averaging aged 89 at the start of the study, they were asked how often they took part in social activities, with answers including almost every day, not daily, but at least once/week; not weekly, but at least once a month; not monthly, but sometimes; and never. Survival was tracked for an average of five years or until people died.
Over the first five years of the study, 25,406 people said they did not engage in any social activities, 1,379 said sometimes; 693 said at least once a month, 553 at least once a week and 532 almost daily.
During the entire study, 21,161 (74 per cent) people died, of whom 15,728 did so within the first five years.
In the first five years, after adjusting for factors such as sex, age, diet and whether somebody was married, death rates were 18.4 per 100 people who never socialised, 8.8 among those who did so occasionally, 8.3 among those who did so at least monthly, 7.5 among those who socialised at least once a week and 7.3 among those who did so nearly every day.
Therefore, people were less likely to die the more often they socialised, according to the findings published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
In the first five years, compared with people who never socialised, those who socialised sometimes had a significantly longer overall survival time.
But it was even higher among those who socialised not daily but at least once a week, and among those who did so almost every day.
However, these effects seemed to diminish after five years, with only socialising nearly every day having an effect among those who managed to live that long.
The authors said: ‘This study found that frequent participation in social activity was associated with prolonged overall survival time.
‘From baseline (start of study) to five years of follow-up, the more frequent the social activity, the more prolonged the survival time.
‘However, after five years of follow-up, there was a threshold effect regarding the association between social activity frequency and overall survival time, and only participating in social activity almost every day could significantly extend the overall survival time.’
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide