Study shows sense of purpose vital to good health in later years

By Michelle Dickinson

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

Apparently retirement is bad for you. Research has found that long-term health deteriorates rapidly after retirement.

Usually advice including eating well, not smoking and frequent exercise is given to try to improve health and life expectancy in later years, but this week science has a new suggestion to add to that list.

A study that tracked 424 participants aged 50+ over six years found that the more social groups a person is involved in, the fewer risks there were to their health and the longer they lived.

The research, published this week in the journal BMJ Open, revealed the health benefits of having a sociable hobby were similar to doing regular exercise for those over the age of 50.

Participants who remained members of social groups after retirement had a 2 per cent chance of death after six years. However, participants who quit both groups when they retired increased their probability of dying after six years to 12 per cent.

This study ties in with a 2014 Lancet publication that found older people who reported the greatest sense of purpose lived longer than those who reported having little sense of purpose, implying that having a meaning in life plays a role in protecting people's health.

Okinawa Island in Japan is famous for having the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. Their residents' lifestyles involve their elderly generation being highly respected and asked to strongly participate and advise within their community. They even have a word "Ikigai", which roughly translates as a reason for waking up in the morning or a sense of purpose.

Surveys of Okinawa island residents show they have a strong sense of belonging and most are members of several social and community groups. With 50 centenarians for every 100,000 Okinawa islanders, this sense of purpose seems powerful when compared to New Zealand's 10 centenarians per 100,000.

A lack of social interaction in old age can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation which harm your health. A 2010 Plos Medicine study on 308,849 participants found that those who felt lonely showed health effects just as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and twice as harmful as being obese.

In New Zealand, our public spending on health care has more than doubled as a share of GDP over the past 60 years, partly because of a significant change in the make-up of our population. The number of people aged 65+ has doubled since 1980 and is predicted to double again by 2036.

The Ministry of Health has tried to reduce costs by providing services to help older people live independently in their homes for longer. Perhaps funding transport to and from bingo clubs would be a wise investment.

With the advancement of technology bringing fewer real social interactions and more virtual ones, we must not forget that sociable people are shown to feel less stressed, take better care of themselves and have less risky lifestyles.

Perhaps our love of social media could be put to good use by connecting people to groups and communities, while writing a repeat prescription of regular community volunteering and social tea outings, served with a dash of good conversation.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 09 Dec 2016 20:10:19 Processing Time: 431ms