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What’s the Big Deal about Social Participation?

Group of people planting vegetable in greenhouse

Who among us hasn’t known someone who, as they grew older, became increasingly withdrawn? She or he may have said they liked living alone. He or she may have had any number of reasons why getting out and connecting with other people was not going to happen.

Those who love them worry, and there’s good cause for that. In a nutshell, lack of social participation takes a toll on longevity. Social interaction, on the other hand, helps people live longer and better. That’s a very big deal!

The positive connection between social participation and longevity is well-documented. Dozens of research studies have shown that loneliness has a negative effect on longevity. And the risk appears to be greater for those who live alone than for those who do not, whether or not they live alone by choice, and whether they admit to loneliness or not.

The documented advantages of social interaction are numerous—reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression and other mental health issues, and osteoporosis, to name a few. Social interaction also helps to slow progression of memory loss. You’ve got good reason to stay active, and invite your loved ones to join you.

Age Friendly Seattle focuses on eight domains of livability—among them, social participation. We want Seattle residents and others to have greater access to affordable opportunities for social activity. Here are some opportunities you can look into right now:

  • Community Gardening—To find out if there is a Seattle P-Patch Community Garden near you, click here. Visit there and meet the gardeners. If it looks like a good place for you, sign up for an opening in the future (all of the gardens have a wait list). For additional community gardening resources, including those outside Seattle, click here.
  • Lifelong Learning—Make your public library your best friend! Both The Seattle Public Library (see Highlights for each branch) and King County Library System offer a broad range of lifelong learning opportunities for older adults, including group activities. For special age 50+ classes, click here.
  • Lifelong Recreation—Fitness and social programs for people age 50+ offered through Seattle Parks and Recreation include arts, fitness classes, hikes, lifelong learning, social programs, sports, trips, volunteer opportunities, and walks. For their latest catalog, click here. If you live outside of Seattle, check with your local parks department.
  • Senior Activity Centers—Most senior centers serve anyone age 50+ and provide opportunities for fitness, healthy meals, lifelong learning, transportation, and volunteerism. To find the center closest to you, see the interactive map of senior activity centers throughout King County.
  • Volunteering—Everyone has skills and knowledge to share, and there is a wealth of volunteer opportunities throughout the Puget Sound area. You can find one that’s right for you at Seattle Parks and Recreation; Generation2Generation; United Way’s volunteer site; Solid Ground’s Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP); and through civic participation.
  • Walking programs—Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Sound Steps walking program can help get you up and moving, whether for an easy stroll, a hike, or a half marathon. The Sound Steps Blog includes links to other walking programs in the greater Seattle area.

What activity brings you joy? If you didn’t find it in the options listed above, chances are you can find people who enjoy the same activity via social media sites like MeetUp—book clubs, cultural pursuits, dance, games, languages, photography, singing, writing, or start your own group.

A special note for anyone with memory loss, and anyone caring for someone with memory loss—social participation is important for you, too. Fortunately, Seattle is a mecca for people with memory loss! Check out the programs and events offered via Momentia Seattle!

If you’re already active, keep it up! If not, or if you know someone who doesn’t get out much, we hope some of the ideas listed above will motivate exploration. Social participation is a big deal—it can help you live stronger for longer.

Contributor Irene Stewart, the Age Friendly Seattle project manager, has worked in aging network programs since 2004 and for the City of Seattle since 1999. To learn more about Age Friendly Seattle, e-mail or visit