Want to Live Longer? Learn to Need People More!
We arrange lunch with pals. We keep a doctor’s appointment and visit the dentist for regular cleanings. We schedule a yoga class and offer to pick up our grandchildren from school. We thank an employee who has gone the extra mile.
Our everyday interactions are all about people: our team members as we go through life. We are constantly building our medical or business network, our social and family support system. We depend on a lot of people in a day’s, a week’s, a year’s time. And they depend on us.
A key finding of The Longevity Project, Dr. Lewis Terman’s eight-decade study tracking 1,500 people from birth to death, is that people with large social networks live longest.
Another interesting discovery: “Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.”
As we age, and some of our capabilities diminish, we need people more than ever. Sadly, research shows we spend less and less time with people as we age.
Our time with our children shrinks when they get busy with their own lives. Our time with coworkers dwindles as we ease into retirement and spend more time with our partners. If our partner dies before we do, the time alone expands as never before.
I think about this a lot. I have no children and work independently. My sweetie is 16 years older, and I could be facing a long stretch of years alone as an ‘elder orphan.’ It’s time for me to get busy building a larger team if I plan to make my 100th birthday.
Your Social and Family Network: Grow It and Nurture It
A good friend I hadn’t seen face to face in decades visited this year, and we were happy to ditch the guys for a girls’ night out.
I mentioned what a rarity the evening was for me. She told me about the importance of her ‘library club’ – nothing to do with books at all; just a regular night out with girlfriends, no questions asked.
I don’t go out on my own in the evening, but I am adding to my team in other ways. I joined a music ensemble and network with a group of like-minded business owners in the area.
A neighbor asked me to volunteer for a committee. Do I want to? Not really. But I did because I need a neighbor on my team since I’m new to the ‘hood.
Everything we commit to may interfere with our important relationships. But in my case, I believe growing my social network is important to my future happiness. If I miss lunch or cocktail hour with my husband now and again, I think he’ll understand.
For your closest team members – friends and family – little things mean so much. If a girlfriend is stuck at home after knee surgery, it only takes five minutes to stop by with flowers and a hug.
Say your grandbaby has the sniffles and can’t go to daycare. Play hooky together, making cookies and memories and easing a burden for your frazzled daughter-in-law. If you can find the time to make a favorite dinner? Kudos!
When my sister and I text our 87-year-old mom “Good Morning” each day, she knows we care. We know she’s okay when she texts back, plus it keeps us involved in each other’s day-to-day lives. That’s teamwork.
Your Body Guards: Trusting Your Medical Support Team
Your primary physician and your dentist are key players on your medical support team. If you don’t like them or feel like they don’t care enough about you, start shopping for new medical professionals. It doesn’t hurt to look for someone younger than you who is experienced with treating older patients.
I chose my current physician carefully. My previous doctor went into concierge care, way too rich for my pocketbook.
I started asking friends and medical professionals, as well as my insurance company, and found a good fit. During early visits, I was dubbed their ‘pediatric patient’ because I was so much younger than most of the clientele.
Just recently, I had an incident on vacation where my pulse dropped dangerously low. It’s pure luck a vacationing paramedic stood next to me when I passed out.
“You might be a candidate for a pacemaker, young lady,” he told me. One call to my primary physician, and I was scheduled with a cardiologist the day I returned home. That’s awesome teamwork!
Getting the Job Done: Your Service Team
It doesn’t matter if it’s a waiter, a car mechanic, your hair stylist or the trash service – it’s important to treat the people who serve you with great respect. When I tell the landscape guys the grass looks great, it makes them feel good about their job.
If a guest at our vacation apartments tells me how nice the place looks, I text my cleaning partner immediately. A thank you or a compliment is such an easy thing to give, and it goes a long way toward building a team that wants to do a good job for you for years to come.
My mother has called the same driver to pick up or drop off family at the airport for as long as I can remember. Just recently, she hopped a plane herself to visit me in Florida. Her driver is retired now, but that didn’t stop him from helping his favorite long-time customer with her ride and her luggage.
Some peers of mine, who aren’t that keen on aging, complain and are more demanding each time I see them. I hope they adjust before ill temper becomes a habit. Life is too short to hang with a bad attitude.
In his book The Mature Mind, the late Dr. Gene D. Cohen, former director of the National Institute on Aging, makes a very good point:
“With age we are often more discriminating about our relationships. Research shows that older adults more readily sever superficial or unsatisfying relations in order to spend their time with people they care about and with whom they feel comfortable and able to freely express their true selves.”
If you want good friends, you have to be a good friend – it’s as simple as that. That holds true for all the important relationships in your life. Go Team!
How are you growing your social network as you get older? What could you do to be a better friend or team player? What are your fears about isolation or loneliness in your coming years? Please share your thoughts and insights below.
Terri Edmund White is an innkeeper on Anna Maria Island, Florida. She enjoys life with her husband Jim and their cats, adopted from the Humane Society of Manatee County. A former corporate writer and editor, Terri is currently penning her way to her 100th birthday and has started a 100 Year Project website to write about the journey.