When it comes to senior health and disease prevention, addressing isolation and senior loneliness may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet senior loneliness is a growing problem with far-reaching mental, physical, and financial consequences. However, there is some hopeful news: Research suggests that getting active, especially through group exercise, can be a simple, yet powerful solution that can improve seniors’ health and well-being.
A Growing Demographic, a Growing Problem
The senior population in the United States is growing at an unprecedented rate. By 2040, the Administration on Aging predicts that 22% of the population will be over the age of 65. Over the next 40 years, the number of older adults is projected to increase from 56 million to 94 million – a 69% increase.1
As this population grows, the risk of social isolation and loneliness increases. A CDC-referenced report found that 22% – 47% of older adults feel lonely, with one in four experiencing social isolation. This can be attributed to several life events, including retirement, loss of loved ones, reduced mobility, and shifts in social circles.
Impact of Loneliness on Health
While loneliness is a mental health issue, it can also have physical consequences. The National Institute on Aging reports that feeling lonely and socially isolated can lead to an increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, increased inflammation, and a weakened immune system.
Senior loneliness and social isolation are also tied to increased mortality. According to the American Heart Association, they’re linked to a 30% higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from either condition.
Understanding the Heart Connection
Although the link between loneliness and heart issues isn’t fully understood, there are a few possible explanations. Loneliness has been associated with elevated stress levels, inflammation, and immune system changes. These physiological shifts can result in damage to the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risks of heart disease and stroke. Dr. Vivek H. Murphy, the U.S. Surgeon General, has gone so far as to equate the health risks of loneliness to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, costing the health industry billions annually.
Isolation’s Impact on Costs
Social isolation also contributes to higher healthcare expenses. Isolated adults are more prone to chronic health conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, thus spending more on healthcare. Research from AARP revealed that socially isolated older adults cost Medicare an extra $6.7 billion each year.
The Power of Group Exercise
Although social isolation can have a negative impact on seniors’ health, research shows that group exercise can be a powerful tool to combat isolation. Group exercise can improve seniors’ health in a number of ways:
- Group exercise participants had significant improvements in three quality-of-life measures: mental, physical, and emotional.2
- Exercising with others may be more effective in promoting well-being compared to solo workouts.3
- Group exercise for older adults prevents isolation and loneliness by fostering social bonds.4
- Older adults who took part in group exercise reported feeling more connected and less lonely.5
Top 4 Benefits of Group Exercise
Besides the chance to interact with other people, group fitness classes offer these great benefits for seniors:
- Staying safe: A class can provide a safe environment. The instructor can offer adaptations and modifications for each exercise and show the correct form.
- Extra accountability: It’s much harder to skip a class when other people and the instructor expect everyone’s attendance. Moreover, classes have specific schedules and may require advanced signup, adding another layer of accountability.
- Sense of belonging: An exercise group’s sense of community and camaraderie can give older adults the motivation and confidence to stick to an exercise routine. Making friends with like-minded and supportive people creates a non-judgmental environment.
- More motivation: People are more likely to continue exercising in a group exercise program versus exercising on their own6.
Aaptiv: A Tool to Connect and Combat Senior Loneliness
Aaptiv Advantage offers a complete fitness solution for seniors to stay active, healthy, and connected. With the largest Medicare fitness network in the industry, beneficiaries have access to over 25 thousand in-person facilities nationwide, including leading local and national brands and boutique studios. Many of these gyms offer classes specifically for seniors, making it an excellent place to meet and connect with other like-minded people.
The Aaptiv Advantage app can also help members find the best gyms, boutique studios, and fitness classes in their area. Plus, if a member chooses to exercise on their own, the app provides workouts that use facility-specific equipment for an even better gym experience.
More Community, More Connections
Through the app, members can engage in group fitness training via monthly Team Challenges, promoting camaraderie and accountability. The Team Aaptiv Community further enables connections by allowing members to share workout photos and supportive messages. With a wide range of activities and classes, Aaptiv offers plenty of options for seniors to get moving…and stay connected.
It’s important to note that exercise is not a cure-all for senior loneliness. Older adults may also benefit from a combination of social engagement, supportive relationships, and other strategies to address isolation and loneliness.
1 Population Reference Bureau, “The U.S. Population is Growing Older…”, 2020. 2 Science Daily, “Group Exercise Improves Quality of Life…”, 2017. 3 Harada, K. et al., “Exercising Alone of Exercising with Others…” Human Kinetics, 2019. 4 Sebastiao, E, Mirda, D., “Group-based Physical Activity as a Means to Reduce Social Isolation…” PubMed, 2021. 5 Mays, A., Kim, S. et al., “The Leveraging Exercise to Age in Place (LEAP) Study…” PubMed, 2021. 6 Phillips, L., Meyer J., “Group Exercise May be Even Better for You than Solo Workouts”, The Washington Post, 2021