Older adults are especially vulnerable to feelings of loneliness. Many older individuals experience the death of friends, family members, and spouses. As physical health declines in older age, individuals may not be able to participate in social activities that they once enjoyed. These factors all contribute to loneliness. Feelings of loneliness have been shown to have negative health consequences, including high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. Psychological issues such as depression and anxiety have been linked to loneliness in older individuals as well. It is well known that physical activity can improve both physical and psychological health. But for individuals who struggle with loneliness, the perception of pursuing physically fortifying activities may be daunting. Nancy E. G. Newall of the Centre on Aging and the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Canada wanted to explore the theory that positive emotions can counteract the negative consequences of loneliness.
To address this question, Newall tested the Broaden and Build Theory that suggests that positive feelings can reverse negative feelings associated with loneliness. Newall followed 228 older adults and assessed their levels of physical health, physical activity, and affect over 1 year. Seven years later, Newall compared the initial data to mortality rates in the participants. She found that loneliness strongly predicted lower physical activity but not daily activity. Specifically, the individuals with high levels of loneliness still completed activities of daily living but were less inclined to be involved in deliberate exercise than those without loneliness. Additionally, the loneliest participants also had the highest mortality rates. In contrast, Newall found a direct link between positive feelings of happiness and physical health and psychological well-being. This finding was sustained even in participants with symptoms of depression, which suggests that depression and loneliness are independent and unique emotional states. Newall hopes that clinicians and elderly individuals can benefit from the evidence provided in this study. She added, “To conclude, results from this study suggest that if you are lonely, having moments of happiness can be especially crucial.”
Newall, N. E. G., Chipperfield, J. G., Bailis, D. S., Stewart, T. L. (2012). Consequences of loneliness on physical activity and mortality in older adults and the power of positive emotions. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029413
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.