Humans are social creatures. Most of us live with families, work in communities, and identify as a member of a culture and nation. From the moment we’re born, we connect with others. So maybe it’s no surprise that our relationships with others continue to play an important role late into our lives. Numerous health studies have shown that, if we want to live better as we progress deep into life, we should seek out and maintain a social network.* But what does that mean exactly? And in what ways do social networks benefit us? Read on to learn more.
A social network is … what?
A social network is your network of social interactions and relationships. More specifically, your social network is the group of people that you regularly relate to on a personal level. All of these people do not need to know each other to be part of your social network. What’s important is that they know you and that the two of you actively participate in an ongoing relationship. It doesn’t matter if this person is an old friend, a colleague, a family member, or just someone you always run into at the park—if you enjoy their company and conversation, they are part of your social network.
How big should a social network be?
There is no perfect size for a social network. Some people like to have a large network; some prefer a tight-knit network. The important thing for you—and especially for aging adults—is that you feel you have people to relate to.
What are the benefits of having a social network?
All of us can benefit from having a strong social network, but for aging adults, the benefits can be particularly profound. As we age, we tend to retire from jobs, lose friends and family to death, and become less mobile. All of this can leave us with a depleted social network, which can in turn negatively affect our health and sense of well-being. To counteract this, we must work to maintain the ties we have and form new ties when we can.
If we have a good social network in our later years, we can experience everything from improved cognitive functioning to improved health. In fact, studies have shown that the link between weak social networks and health is as strong as the link between smoking and health.* Those with meaningful social lives tend to live 5 years longer than those who do not have a good social network. Staying socially active and engaged in activities also helps to prevent depression as well. In short, you are more likely to enjoy your golden years when you take the time to enjoy your friends and family.
Do online social networks help?
While social media is still a fairly new addition to our lives, there is growing evidence that using social media can help aging adults maintain social networks and live fuller lives. The AARP recommends seniors go online,† and a European study has found that social media use among the aging community improves health in terms of cognitive capacity, increases a sense of self-competence, and may have a beneficial effect on mental and physical well-being.‡
If you’re an aging adult, don’t shy away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and online learning. There could be a real benefit to liking all of those baby pictures and posting about last night’s big game.
How can I learn more about aging?
If you’re interested in the process of aging and how we can live fuller lives as we get older, you may want to consider earning a bachelor of health studies degree online. This BS degree is specifically designed for those who are interested in health-related issues and want a career in the health fields, including the field of aging. By choosing to earn your bachelor of science degree from an online university, you won’t have to upend your life to attend school. Online education can allow you to earn you bachelor’s in health studies on a schedule that works for you.
Growing older doesn’t have to mean leading a less-full life. Aging adults can improve their well-being by maintaining strong social networks—and you can help aging adults in many other ways by earning a BS degree online and entering a career in health.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online BS in Health Studies. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
*US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Social and Emotional Aging, available on the Internet at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3950961.
†J. Toedtman, Jump In! The Social Media’s Fine, AARP Bulletin, on the Internet at www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/info-05-2013/seniors-social-media-technology-facebook.html.
‡The Guardian, Study Finds Social Media Use Beneficial to Overall Health of Elderly, on the Internet at www.theguardian.com/media/2014/dec/12/study-finds-social-media-skype-facebook-use-beneficial-overall-health-elderly.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.