How your tribe helps you thrive.
By Beth Kaszuba
Staying social by clicking “like” or “dislike” isn’t always healthy.
But our deep, true human connections — the ones we foster with real conversation and emotional sharing — those contribute to longer, happier lives.
That’s not just common sense. It’s backed by science. Studies show that loneliness increases cortisol, a hormone related to stress, and can lead to inflammation. And research indicates that volunteering gives older people benefits comparable to eating a healthy diet.
“Loneliness can have a detrimental effect on mental health,” says Teena Kubasti, director of LIFE Geisinger, a program that provides qualifying senior citizens with a broad spectrum of healthcare services — including opportunities to socialize. “Being social gives people a sense of purpose, belonging and connection.”
Ms. Kubasti and her staff have seen formerly isolated patients transform and thrive once they join group activities at LIFE Geisinger day centers.
“They may be withdrawn at first, and the stimulus can be overwhelming,” she says. “But we’ve seen people make friends, do activities and blossom. They become part of a family, and they’re smiling when they get off the bus.”
Geisinger’s 65 Forward health centers are also designed to foster personal connections among their age 65+ clientele. Through longer appointments with their doctor, members can forge a relationship. And the centers are hubs for group activities such as crafts, game nights and exercise classes.
Strong connections with neighbors and family members are credited with making Nicoya, Costa Rica, a “blue zone,” where people tend to live longer, healthier lives. Learn more about these spots, and the impact of local diets, here.
Whether you favor the medical care, the exercise or the arts and crafts, Geisinger 65 Forward has a lot to offer. Member Betty Houtz says, “I think everybody could be my friend here.”
Watch her video here.
Even a simple phone call can make a difference. That’s why Geisinger also sponsors the Friendly Neighbors program, which connects volunteers with socially isolated people over age 50 for chats about hobbies and shared interests. The program, in collaboration with area YMCAs, gives older people the chance to raise practical concerns about things like transportation, food or safety concerns, too.
Whatever your age, the next time your social media scrolling brings you down, switch to real-life social. Look up from the screen, make eye contact and smile at someone. You’ll boost your health — and maybe theirs, too.
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