Why Loneliness Is Bad for Men’s Health
It’s November and that means people are talking about men’s health. The Movember movement uses this month to raise awareness of men’s health and funding for research that can help men live longer, healthier lives. When you think of men’s health issues, your mind probably goes to issues like cancer and heart disease. Though those are issues of importance to senior men, one of the biggest dangers they face is actually loneliness.
We can all agree that loneliness is bad, but not many people understand just how prevalent it is in men and how much of a problem it truly is.
Loneliness Isn’t Just About Mental Health
When a doctor provides a physical diagnosis and prescribes treatment, most people take it pretty seriously. Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health issues, society often dismisses the problems and deems them as unimportant.
This way of thinking is harmful, because loneliness doesn’t just make you unhappy; it has real, substantive effects on your physical health.
Research has found that loneliness leads to:
- A higher likelihood of catching the flu
- An increased risk of Alzheimer’s
- Higher blood pressure in seniors
- Higher rates of death
- Worse cognitive performance
All of these effects of loneliness are made worse by the fact that a senior that’s socially isolated won’t have anyone to turn to for help. If you don’t have a spouse, close family members or friends to turn to when you get sick, what can you do?
Solutions to Senior Male Loneliness
Loneliness isn’t specific to senior men; it is a problem for everyone that experiences it.
Men are at higher risk of it than women and seniors are at a higher risk of it than the rest of the population. That makes it a particularly big issue for senior men.
The first step to overcoming the risks of senior male loneliness is to realize it’s an issue and commit to doing something about it. Now that that part’s done, here are five other things you can do to start fixing the problem before it becomes a bigger issue in your life:
1. Go to the gym.
Hear me out here – yes, you’ve been told your whole life to exercise and you’re probably tired of it. But going to your local gym gives you an incentive to be healthier and provides a lot of opportunities to meet other people going to the gym. You can even look into the classes they offer (and they may have some that focus on seniors) so your trip to the gym is a social experience.
2. Move to a retirement community.
For a lot of seniors, loneliness becomes a bigger issue once you live alone and start to have a harder time getting out of the house regularly. Before you reach that point, consider moving to a retirement community. Not only will you be around lots of people close to your age, but most communities regularly schedule classes and events.
If the work of maintaining friendships sounds like a lot to you, moving into the same neighborhood or building as a lot of potential friends and having a social calendar created for you pretty much takes all the work out of the equation. All you have to do is show up.
3. Proactively suggest social time with friends.
Think about it: are there men you’ve started to befriend over the years, only to let the relationship fall by the wayside because neither of you put in the effort to keep it going? Brainstorm who those people are and get back in touch. Be the one who does the job of organizing times to meet up and do something together. Consider making it a regular thing – encourage a group of male friends to all get together the same time every week. Once it’s routine, you’ll be less likely to let the planning slide.
4. Take up a (social) hobby.
Research supports an idea that may be intuitive to many men: men usually need a shared activity to build friendships with other men around. One of the best things senior men can do to reduce loneliness is to figure out a hobby to commit to. Now obviously, it can’t be a solitary hobby. Picking up woodworking in your garage alone won’t do the trick here. But something like bingo, golf or improv that gets you out with other people on a regular basis is a good start.
All those years you were working, you didn’t have time to do much volunteering. But now that you’re retired and have more free time to work with, think about the causes or institutions you’re passionate about and look into volunteer opportunities that will be meaningful to you. That could mean getting involved with local political groups, heading to the homeless shelter to help out once a week, or starting to volunteer at your local museum – whatever volunteer route you choose, you’ll meet other people with similar interests and values once you get there.
If you’re feeling lonely, don’t dismiss it. It’s not a weakness to feel socially isolated and it’s not a hopeless state of being you just have to live with. By just taking a few steps, you can start to build and maintain friendships in your life, no matter your age. You just have to recognize the need and start doing it.