Friends contribute to successful aging

“I certainly enjoyed knowing you, Sincerely, Ada.” Thus she signed my college yearbook.
Ada and I were girls of 21, ready to conquer the world. She in a business job in Indiana; I teaching in Ontario.
Six years later, we found ourselves back at our alma mater. She as registrar; I as public relations writer. And our friendship blossomed as every day we took our coffee breaks together.
In the meantime, I had gone back to college for one year and Ada’s sister, Esther, and I were assigned to be roommates.
That was a special year. At the time, our alma mater was bursting at the seams and older students were not allowed to live in the dorms. Instead, we were assigned to an apartment above the campus grocery store.
There were 10 students and four bedrooms. Consequently, Esther and I lived in the living room—that meant six women had to walk through our room to get to their rooms and everyone walked through our room to go to the bathroom.
As a result, we studied at the library. But what fun we had in the evenings!
With all that shared history, we were delighted when Esther and Ada visited us last week.
It had been three years since we had seen each other, so we made the most of every minute. We ate out, watched a funny movie, saw pictures of Esther’s fantastic day lilies, visited my son’s clay studio, and went on a long day trip to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
But mostly we talked—about the way it used to be, the way it is now, and about our dreams for the future. We are all older than we were in the 1950s, but I would have to say we are all aging successfully.
It makes me think of the book “Successful Aging” by Drs. John Rowe and Robert Kahn. This book reports on the research project undertaken by the MacArthur Foundation.
This project had the goal of getting past our pre-occupation with disability, disease, and chronological age, and turning our attention to the positive aspects of aging, which have been terribly overlooked.
Over the course of the 10-year study, a large group of distinguished researchers found there are three key components of successful aging—exercise, a positive mental attitude, and social activities.
So people who have lots of friends and participate regularly in social activities are healthier and age more successfully.
This includes enjoying telephone conversations with friends or family, participating in a church or other organizations, volunteering, and visiting with friends from near and far.
Even more amazingly, the study reported that social activity had the same protective benefits as regular exercise.
Getting together with friends to exercise seems to provide “double bonus points” of protection against physical and cognitive decline.
So call a friend today. Have someone in for coffee. Set up a game of Mah Jong or pinochle. Invite your old roommate to visit. Volunteer in an economy shop. Go for a walk with a friend. Attend a Lions Club meeting.
And always remember that engaging in social activities and cultivating friendships is as important as a healthy exercise routine.
An extra dose of friendship may be just what you need to age successfully.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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