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Shelly Barnes: More social interactions can lead to a healthier heart

Shelly Barnes • Sep 10, 2018 at 6:41 PM

How many social interactions does the average person experience each day? Whatever that number is, it is decreasing across the population. According to University of Tennessee Extension community health specialist Soghra Jarvandi, this trend spells bad news for heart health, and older adults are particularly at risk to be socially isolated.

“Social isolation increases the stress signals in the body, resulting in elevated blood pressure and accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries. This poses a major and growing threat to the biophysical wellbeing of different age groups, especially seniors,” said Jarvandi. “Research indicates an association between loneliness and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, results from a new study conducted by AARP and Stanford University showed that Medicare, on average, spends $1,608 more per year for each older person with less social connection.” 

Jarvandi said social isolation has never been more easily remedied, so there is hope, no matter how isolated someone feels. 

Jarvandi listed a few ways seniors can increase their social interactions and connectedness:

• Connect with friends and family on a regular basis, either through a face-to-face visit, a phone call or even a text message. Plan lunch out with a friend or relative to coincide with running errands or getting groceries.

• Exercise with others, rather than alone. Join a walking or hiking group at a local park, take a class at a nearby gym or local senior citizens center.

• Volunteer to support an important cause or group or get involved with a church, temple or other religious organization.

• Consider joining a social group in the community, such as a family and community education club or a club organized through a local organization. 

• Combine creativity with connection by joining a book club, taking an art class, joining a choir or band, starting a knitting or quilting group, staging a play with friends or starting a themed-dining dinner club. The possibilities are endless.

• Consider auditing a class at a local college or taking a class related to a hobby.

“It’s important for seniors to realize that diet and exercise are not the only ways to stay healthy. Add friendship, social interaction and connection to any heart health regimen,” said Jarvandi.

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides real life solutions. Visit ag.tennessee.edu. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.

For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences-related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at [email protected] or 615-444-9584.

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