We can’t change our genes, but we can alter our environment. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study conducted over the course of 80 years, reveals powerful insights into living a happy and healthy life. The study followed 268 college sophomores beginning in 1938, and over the years, expanded its control groups to include offspring, women, and inner-city residents of Boston. The data found that living a long and fulfilling life requires building and sustaining meaningful relationships.

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.

6 Ways on How to Age with Your Health Intact

If relationships are the key to staying healthy and happy as we age, we need to unplug and check in. Below are ways to decrease loneliness and develop connections with others.

1. Play

Did you enjoy sports as a kid? Keep playing! There are many adult sports leagues for all ages that are offered for various ability levels. Check out the Huntsman World Senior Games for inspiration. Athletes from 50 to 90 plus still participate and excel in the games they love. If sports aren’t your thing, organize a weekly card or game night. Playing builds camaraderie, exercises the body and the mind, and connects people with the same interests.

2. Take a Class

It’s never too late to learn something new. Community Colleges and local cities offer a myriad of classes and workshops. The face-to-face interaction with people of various ages and backgrounds can open minds and forge new friendships.

3. Socialize Regularly

Eat good food and partake in all that life has to offer. Invite friends over or even the new neighbors. Start a dining group where everyone takes a turn hosting. Go out to dinner with friends, and try new restaurants around the area. Join a book club or “meet up” group. Find local events in your area, invite a few friends, and explore something new.

4. Volunteer

If you want to decrease depression, find a sense of purpose, build confidence, and reduce stress, anger, and anxiety, then volunteer. Humans are wired to help. Volunteering connects us to others and our community. “Even when controlling for other factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.” Plus, volunteering is a gratifying way to share years of expertise and life-long skills after retirement.

5. RSVP Yes!

Accept invitations. You never know who you might meet. I have met the most interesting people and started new friendships by responding “yes” to an invite. If one tends to be introverted, it can be difficult to put oneself in a social situation. However, it’s a great way to practice making introductions and initiating conversations. A good friend of mine has severe social anxiety, yet he has met a very supportive group of friends by bravely saying, “Yes”.

6. Improve Communication Skills

Relationships can be sticky, complicated, and not always positive. Building strong relationships requires good communication skills. It is said that the most effective leaders are the best listeners. When people are listened to, they feel valued. This, in turn, creates connection. Listening requires patience and focus, but the rewards are immense. We learn about each other, build trust, and develop empathy.

At any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they are lonely. If you notice a friend or family member who is isolated and lacking human connection, please visit them. Robert Waldinger, the Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who currently directs the Harvard Study of Adult Development profoundly states, “Loneliness Kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” Let’s keep our health intact and live our best lives by connecting with others and helping others connect with us.

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