Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has a significant impact on healthy aging and disease prevention, and the people we spend time with regularly can influence our habits, and be a source of support and joy. But relationships that cause stress, or reinforce unhealthy lifestyle choices can sabotage efforts to make good choices that, over time, can lead to a poorer quality of life and health.
Even more than family sometimes, our peer group can help us stay socially connected, and can provide an important support system in times of illness or loss. According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, a friend group can also help us stay physically active, stop smoking, limit alcohol intake, or lower sugar consumption.
A peer group that encourages physical activities can be a great motivator to stay fit in older age. It’s much easier to commit to a regular yoga practice, Pickleball game, or aqua fitness class if you are enjoying the activity with friends. Peers can encourage you if things are difficult, and offer sage advice when health or personal issues arise.
A regular walking group can not only put daily activity in the books, but gathering with friends also helps older adults avoid social isolation while preventing loss of physical function. If you find that your friend group is promoting unhealthy habits like indulging in too much alcohol or sweets, it may be time to switch things up and plan activities that encourage more healthy choices.
You don’t have to let go of old friends, necessarily, that aren’t as active or concerned about their health, but it may help to also find a peer group with habits that align more with your own health goals. A peer-led exercise program, a hiking Meetup, or a learn-to-play sports class can open up a world of friendships that can help support you on a healthier aging journey.
Although we know that physical activity can help prevent bone and muscle loss, promote good mental health, keep off extra weight, preserve function, and lower the risk for chronic illness, many older adults don’t get adequate exercise. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate-to-vigorous activity and participate in strengthening exercises at least twice a week. Older adults who struggle to reach these goals on their own can benefit from joining a community-based exercise program led by peers who can offer support, guidance, and encouragement.