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The Impact of Physical Activity on Loneliness and Social Isolation for Older Adults

(BPT) – It’s well-established that physical activity, like walking, yoga, and going to a fitness center, has many health benefits for older adults. These include better sleep, less anxiety, and reduced risk of heart disease, along with many other benefits that may improve overall health.

But what if physical activity could help older adults feel less alone, even if they were exercising alone?

Researchers from AARP Services Inc., UnitedHealthcare, and OptumLabs set out to investigate this question, focusing on two areas:

  • Could physical activity help to reduce social isolation and loneliness?
  • Could physical activity promote higher levels of resilience, purpose, or a positive perception of aging?

There’s a continued emphasis on supporting older adults as they work to find meaning, purpose, and resilience as they age. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may have been harder to find opportunities to exercise, which contributed to greater feelings of social isolation and loneliness.

The results of the study point to strong evidence that physical activity can help older adults feel less alone and socially isolated, as well as positively increase their feelings of resilience and purpose.

Researchers found that:

  • moderate and high physical activity were associated with significantly reduced rates (15%-30% lower) of severe loneliness and social isolation.
  • the same level of physical activity was also associated with improved feelings (27%-150% higher) of resilience, purpose, and a positive perception of aging.

The level of physical activity came from the number of days a week someone would exercise (even walking or gardening), not the intensity of the exercise itself. Moderate to high levels ranged between three to four days a week or five-plus days a week, respectively.

“Continuing to be physically active over time may be one of the best things older adults can do for themselves to promote healthy aging — mental, physical, and emotional,” said Shirley Musich, senior research director at OptumInsight and one of the co-authors of the study.

Talk with your doctor about healthy ways to incorporate fitness into your routine. For individuals recovering from an injury, consider seeking advice from a physical therapist who may identify areas requiring special focus.

South Mountain Memory Care focuses on high-quality, personalized care, and the safest possible environment for your loved one. South Mountain Memory Care is proud to offer our residents a wide range of resident-focused daily activity programming. Each neighborhood offers activity space for group and one-on-one activities.

The brand-new building is a stand-alone memory care community, meaning that the entire building, staff, and programs, are designed to serve residents with cognitive issues. To ensure person-centered care and attention, we have accommodations for up to 28 residents. The building is divided into two neighborhoods (wings), each offering 10 private suites and 2 semi-private suites. South Mountain Memory Care is located in the Allentown suburb of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and is easily accessible from the Lehigh Valley, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. For more information, go to

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