The Health Benefits of Friendship

Bethlen independent living residents

Healthy Aging Month is observed annually each September and promotes ways for people to remain healthy as they get older. Staying active, maintaining regular doctor appointments, adopting a healthy diet and picking up a new hobby are all great ways to age happily. One other important component to healthy aging is prioritizing social engagement, with studies showing that meaningful friendships are good for our overall physical and mental health.

Related: 6 Mood Boosters for Seniors

Friendship comes in many forms, and friends enter our lives at various stages. There are friends we first meet in grade school who we might maintain relationships with for decades, there are the friends who pop in and out of our lives during a certain season (college friend, former co-workers, etc.) and there are the friends we haven’t met yet.

Friends teach us about ourselves, and new friendships can be made at any age. Meaningful relationships with others have a significant positive impact on our health, and the benefits are numerous. Friends can help us:

● Improve self-worth and purpose    
● Reduce stress
● Support a longer, happier life
● Encourage healthy behaviors 
● Cope with various griefs

As we age, the benefits of friendship continue. Friends help us counteract loneliness, motivate us to keep working on ourselves, encourage us to take on new challenges and so much more. Simply put, positive, healthy relationships help to enhance one’s quality of life.

For aging adults, retirement communities offer an abundance of activities, and residents can enjoy active lifestyles and an engaging network of friends.

Fast Friends

“We’ve been trying to get to the dollar store for a week!” Concordia Haven Apartments residents Rita Snyder and Pat Minor said in unison, doubled over in laughter.

“And – we’re supposed to be retired,” Pat continued, both still giggling. “We just can’t seem to get there!”

The two were introduced by a mutual friend, Rita’s cousin, who knew they would become “fast friends.” And that they did. In the few years that they’ve known each other they’ve become virtually inseparable. 

Cabot Haven Apartments residents Pat and Rita

Rita and her husband Duke moved onto the Concordia at Cabot campus in February 2018; Pat arrived the following October. Having lived in the region all of their lives, neither of the friends looked at any other independent living community.

“My husband and I would drive by the campus and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to live at Concordia?’” Rita said. “My daughters brought us down for a tour after Thanksgiving, and we moved in three months later.”

Pat was also happy with her choice to move into a retirement community.

“After 60 years at my home, I got to the point that I didn’t want to do work around the house anymore. Here, they do it all for you.”

All of the free time leaves them with many opportunities to enjoy one another’s company.

“We play cards four times a week, play bingo, tend to the flower garden and volunteer. There’s so much to do, our time fills up fast!” Pat said.

The two have also helped each other through difficult times. Late last year, Rita’s husband fell ill.

“Pat was so kind when Duke was in hospice and afterwards,” Rita said. “She was very supportive. She’d stop my place in the evening just to stay with me for a few hours. My family recognized how good of a friend she is to me, too.”

For Pat, that’s what friendship means, “Good friends are always there for each other.”

Rita agreed, with a wink.

“Pat can tell me when I need to straighten up,” she said. “She keeps me on track and makes sure I keep doctors’ appointments and important stuff like that. We encourage other to stay healthy.”

“It’s become a good friendship,” Pat fondly stated while Rita nodded in agreement.

And yes, they finally made it to the dollar store.

Keeping in Touch

Nancy and Dennis Rising and Mike and Ida Long, Concordia at Bethlen residents, moved into the retirement community about 10 years ago – months apart. Both couples have friends who go way back, some spanning over 60 years and speak to the importance of old and new friends.

“You never skip a beat with lifelong friends when it’s solid,” Ida said. “Those friends are always there. In fact, classmates of my husband Mike have frequent luncheons, and they have always invited me to go along. It’s like they adopted me.”

Nancy and Dennis agree about the impact long-term friendships have on their lives.

“I was in the service and still keep in touch with my flight crew,” he said. “We didn’t live too far from here, and so we have a lot of friends close to Bethlen and have made new friends here. We’re friends with everyone.”

The couples met at a monthly social dinner.  

As Nancy explains, “The social dinner started out as just snacks. It’s now a nice evening with friends, dinner is provided and the residents make the dessert.”

Related: 6 Key Nutrients for Healthy Aging

She also echoes the shared sentiment of lifelong friends.

“I grew up in Ligonier, so when we moved to Bethlen, I was able to reconnect with some classmates. I see some several times a year and still call others from time to time to check in.”

For Nancy and Ida, their friendship had renewed their shared interest in nature. 

Risings and Longs walking

“I learn a lot from Nancy,” Ida said. “She knows all of the flowers and can identify any bird by their song.”

Mike and Dennis also enjoy their companionship and life on the campus.

“We clean around the campus and clean out the pavilion together,” he said, “And have a little bit of fun while we’re at it. In fact, we are riding our motor scooters together this afternoon!”

With all friends interviewed, one constant illuminates: support for one another.  

“Friendship is about helping each other and being there for one another,” Mike said. “If we don’t hear from or see a friend in a day or so, we stop by and do a check.”

All of Concordia’s continuing care retirement communities offer an abundance of activities to bring new friends together and invite old friends in for a visit with spacious cottages at Concordia at Bethlen and guest rooms at Concordia Haven Apartments, Highpointe at Rebecca, Concordia Village of Tampa, Concordia of the South Hills and Concordia at Sumner.

For more information about all of the levels of care Concordia offers in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and Tampa, Florida, including memory care services, visit our care levels page or send us a message through our contact form.  

Founded in 1881, Concordia Lutheran Ministries is a faith-based, CARF-accredited Aging Services Network and recipient of the inaugural Pennsylvania Department of Aging Excellence in Quality Care Award. As one of the largest nonprofit senior care providers in the country, the organization serves 50,000 people annually through in-home care and inpatient locations in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and Tampa, Florida.

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