Active social, spiritual life helps in healthy aging

The USC study showed small day-to-day changes can result in measurable improvements in quality of life. Guided by lifestyle advisors, seniors participating in the study made small, sustainable changes in their routines (such as visiting a museum with a friend once a week) that led to measurable gains in quality of life, including lower rates of depression and better reported satisfaction with life.

According to lead investigator Florence Clark, the study validates the current trend in public health strategies to focus on preventing illness and disability, as opposed to treating issues once they have already begun to negatively impact health.

“What is critical is that, as we age, we continue to be engaged in life through a sustainable mix of productive, social, physical and spiritual activities,” Clark said. “This goal of prevention and wellness is really a key to health care reform, and results in cost savings to society. The emphasis now is prevention. There are non-pharmacologic interventions that work,” she said.

Clark is professor and associate dean of the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, and president of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

“Being engaged in a social life has a positive effect on health, but the public is not sufficiently aware of how key this is to successful aging,” she said. The older adult participants were described as “well” because they were living in the community, not in a skilled nursing facility or other institutional setting.

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