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5 ways you can be more social and keep your brain young

Alice Gomstyn By Alice Gomstyn

Old men playing chess

Most weekdays, you’ll find Yevgenya at her favorite senior center in Paramus, New Jersey. There the sharp, energetic 80-something chats with buddies, plays board games — she takes Rummikub very seriously — and joins an occasional group trip to a restaurant or concert. Her busy schedule means she has little time to bake her delicious pastries for her devoted granddaughter and great-grandchildren, but they don’t mind because they know spending time with her friends makes her happy.

As it turns out, it may be making her brain healthier, too. A new report by the Global Council on Brain Health urges seniors to take part in social activities because “older people who are more socially engaged and have larger social networks tend to have a higher level of cognitive function.” Interacting with others, the report concludes, may slow cognitive decline. If you’re interested in widening your social circle, consider these 5 ideas that are popular with seniors and health experts alike.

1. Join the movers and shakers

Aetna wellness coach Ricky Moore says that among the seniors he works with, many take advantage of fitness programs targeted to older adults, such as SilverSneakers and Silver & Fit. Found at health clubs around the country, the programs offer a variety of exercise classes for a range of abilities. Aside from their physical health benefits, they also provide a chance to make new friends.

Many insurance plans offer access to the programs at no extra cost, including Aetna Medicare Advantage. “Sometimes older adults are concerned about their finances and whether they can actually afford a gym membership,” Moore says. “If it’s covered under a medical plan, that’s a great motivator.” Read Moore’s tips for creating a fitness plan.

2. Give back to the community.

Another avenue for boosting your social life — and brain health — is volunteerism. The Global Council on Brain health report cited studies that found older adults “demonstrated improved memory and reasoning skills” after volunteering at local elementary schools. The report also noted that seniors benefit from the sense of achievement that comes from volunteerism.

Moore agrees: “Not only will volunteering enable you to connect with other thoughtful adults in your area, it will also make you feel wonderful knowing you’re providing a greatly appreciated service for those who need it most.” Learn more about the benefits of volunteering.

3. Expand your horizons.

Adult education classes offered by libraries, colleges and houses of worship provide more opportunities for seniors to be social and discover something new. Moore’s own mother-in-law learned how to better navigate computers after taking beginner classes at her church and a local college. “At first she was apprehensive about taking a college course. But when she got there, other people her age were in the class,” Moore says. Some colleges even allow seniors to audit classes at little or no cost.

4. Try social networking sites.

If you’re comfortable with a computer or smartphone, take advantage of online social networks to keep in touch with loved ones and make new friends. “Social networks aren’t just for connecting with people you know,” Moore says. “You can look for people with the same interests. I hear people talking about joining walking groups on Facebook that meet up a once a week.” Learn more about how friends can help you keep your routine on track.

5. Rest up to rejuvenate.

Being social takes energy. For seniors (and everyone else, for that matter), getting enough sleep is necessary to feeling strong and vital. “It’s how the body rejuvenates itself for the next day,” Moore said. “Studies show people who don’t get adequate sleep are more sluggish and don’t have energy to do ‘normal’ activities.” Sometimes seeing a medical professional is the best way to address sleep problems.

Health insurance companies such as Aetna also offer access to personalized and group wellness programs that promote healthy sleep habits. Learn more about the Do’s and Don’ts of a good night’s sleep.

The mental and emotional benefits of sociability are too important to ignore. In other words, it’s a no-brainer!

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