A new study by the University of Toronto said older people who are active in recreational activities and volunteer work have a much better chance at "successfully aging." File Photo by MFranciscr/Pixabay
June 7 (UPI) -- People who participate in volunteer work and recreational activities later in life were less likely to suffer from physical, cognitive, mental or emotional problems, according to a new study conducted by the University of Toronto.
The study on "successful aging," which followed some 7,000 participants over a three-year period, appeared Wednesday in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Researchers followed 7,000 middle-aged and older Canadians to understand if a higher rate of social interaction was associated with a better quality of life through the aging cycle.
The researchers only included participants who were successfully aging at the start of the study. The study defined successful aging as freedom from any serious physical, cognitive, mental, or emotional conditions that prevent daily activities. The researchers said they documented how many maintained their good health over the three years.
The report said about 72% of the respondents who participated in volunteer or recreational activities at the start of the study were still aging successfully after three years. It also found that about two-thirds of those who were not participating in these activities were aging successfully over the same period.
After taking into consideration a range of sociodemographic characteristics, the findings indicated that respondents who participated in recreational activities and volunteer or charity work were 15% and 17% more likely to maintain excellent health across the study, respectively.
"Although the study's observational nature prohibits the determination of causality, it makes intuitive sense that social activity is associated with successful aging," Mabel Ho, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Institute of Life Course and Aging, said.
"Being socially active is important no matter how old we are. Feeling connected and engaged can boost our mood, reduce our sense of loneliness and isolation, and improve our mental health and overall health."
The idea of being involved in some kind of public interaction has led to some medical professionals prescribing social activities for their older patients, dubbed "social prescribing." The effort is a non-pharmacological intervention that integrates primary care with community services.
Social prescribing can include encouraging older adults to volunteer and take part in recreational activities.
"It is encouraging that there are ways to support our physical, cognitive, mental, and emotional well-being as we age," said Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the Institute for Life Course & Aging and professor at the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
"This is wonderful news for older adults and their families who may anticipate that precipitous decline is inevitable with age. It is important for older adults, families, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to work together to create an environment that supports a vibrant and healthy later life."