Strengthen your bond, body, and brain with fun activities that go beyond meeting for coffee.
Humans are genetically programmed to be social.
“We are people who need people, pursuing mutually beneficial purposes,” explains David J. Demko, Ph.D., a clinical gerontologist and aging expert.
Despite that need, research shows more than 40 percent of adults over 60 regularly experience loneliness. This might be because needing human connection is one thing, while actually making the effort to meet new friends or spend time with the ones you already have is another. But it’s worth it!
“Spending time with a friend can improve your quality of life and even help you live longer,” Demko says.
In fact, quality social connections—which can include family relationships and friendships—have been found to lower mortality risk at levels comparable to quitting smoking and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, according to Brigham Young University research.
So call up a friend, family member, or someone you recently met and make plans to connect in person. We’ve pulled together a list of affordable, fun outings below to make it easier. You’ll nurture your relationship—and reap bonus health benefits too.
1. Explore the Outdoors on a Long Walk
Establish a meeting point and take a stroll through a beautiful park or nearby neighborhood. In addition to the social perks, research shows simply walking in a natural environment can help improve your mood and reduce negative thoughts.
Plus, more time spent in nature is associated with a greater feeling of purpose and meaning in life, according to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology.
2. Start a Book Club
Choose a new book to read each month, and schedule regular meetups to discuss your thoughts. The bonus: A study in Neurology found that being a bookworm helps you stay sharper and slows cognitive decline as you age.
Want to add another layer of discovery? Meet at a new coffee shop or bookstore each time.
3. Join a Community Choir
You don’t need to have the voice of an angel. Simply gathering with a group to sing a few songs is a great way to spend time with a friend, and in case you’re nervous, most community choirs don’t require an audition.
Science suggests another bonus: Singing in a choir for six months reduced loneliness and increased interest in life for older adults, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
4. Sign Up for an Art Class
Many schools, museums, and art studios have educational programs to help get their community involved. A simple Google search of “art classes for adults near me,” or for a specific type of art class, should quickly reveal your best options. The options may surprise you: painting, photography, pottery, or even jewelry-making.
What’s more, creating a masterpiece challenges your mind and helps prevent cognitive decline as you age, according to a 2015 report from the Mayo Clinic. Art classes have also been linked to mental benefits like improved memory, reasoning, and resilience.
5. Make a Home-Cooked Meal Together
There’s no shortage of delicious recipes out there, so why not pick one to test out together? You’ll avoid the crowds at restaurants—and be able to cook and eat at your own pace.
Another perk: People who cook most of their meals at home consume fewer calories and carbohydrates, as well as less sugar and fat, than those who cook less or not at all, says research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Need some easy meal ideas? Check out these six restaurant-quality dinners you can make in less than 30 minutes.
6. Sign Up for a SilverSneakers Class
Combine fitness and friendship in a fun exercise class. You’ll both reap mental and physical benefits.
A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab found SilverSneakers members who participate in group exercise are more active and feel healthier than non-members. They’re also 20 percent less likely to experience social isolation and 25 percent less likely to experience loneliness.
Not a SilverSneakers member yet? You might be eligible for free, unlimited access to more than 15,000 gyms and fitness centers across the nation, plus classes and tools designed to keep older adults strong and independent. Check your eligibility instantly here.
7. Rent Bikes for an Afternoon
There’s just something about being on a bike that can make you feel like a kid again. If you don’t already own a set of wheels, call local bike shops to ask about rental options. They’ll not only set you both up on a great bike, but they may also suggest scenic, safe routes for you to check out based on your fitness level and preferences.
If you or your riding partner is hesitant, consider renting an e-bike, or electric bike, which offers a battery-powered motor that assists in pedaling, helping to reduce physical effort—without removing the health benefits or fun from the equation. Learn more in our guide to why e-bikes are a great option for older adults.
8. Take a Dance Lesson
Grab a dance partner, and learn how to salsa or brush up on your foxtrot. Besides learning a new skill and sharing some laughs, you’ll also get a great mind-body workout.
“Our culture has a terrible mind-body split,” says Donna Newman-Bluestein, a dance therapist at the American Dance Therapy Association. Dance, which allows you to move your body and tap into your emotions at the same time, can improve your mind-body connection, she says.
The result: You’ll tone your arms, legs, stomach, and back while also improving your mental health.
Many dance classes are offered via SilverSneakers FLEX classes, or you can check your local community or cultural centers for free or low-cost options.
9. Try a Yoga Class
Trying a new class is always easier with a friend. You’ll feel less anxious about the unknowns (where do I put my shoes and coat? should my mat go vertical or horizontal?), and the company can help you feel rejuvenated.
If you find a class you like, make it a regular date to strengthen more than just your bond. A consistent yoga practice has been shown to help build muscle, reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and improve flexibility and balance.
Need help choosing? Here’s how to figure out which yoga class is best for you.
10. Solve a Puzzle
The perfect rainy-day activity, putting together a complex puzzle—or even doing the crossword—is a great way to connect with a friend, challenge your mind, and feel accomplished together.
It’s an especially good option for introverts, as the ongoing activity takes the pressure off constant conversation. You might even find it helps you feel more relaxed and confident in other social situations—you’ll realize you don’t always need to fill silence to have a good time together.
11. Volunteer at a Local Animal Shelter, Soup Kitchen, or Anywhere!
There’s no shortage of amazing volunteer organizations that could use your help. Whether you prefer walking dogs, delivering meals, or helping build a home, you’ll make positive impact on others and on yourself.
When researchers compared the self-reported health status of non-volunteers with those of volunteers in federal-run programs, they found roughly 80 percent of volunteers—all ages 55 or older—reported having good, very good, or excellent health versus just 50 percent among non-volunteers of similar ages and backgrounds. Volunteers also reported fewer mobility problems and higher life satisfaction.
Volunteering is not only a great way to spend time with existing friends and family, but it’s also an excellent way to meet new people with similar interests.
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