Eat well. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Keep stress to a minimum.

This is indeed sound advice when it comes to taking care of ourselves. There’s something else, however, that needs to be added to this list of priorities, and that’s social connectedness. Research shows that social connectedness improves physical health, mental and emotional well-being and even longevity, thereby enabling individuals and communities, including life plan communities, to thrive.  

Human beings are inherently social creatures. As far back as we can trace, humans have traveled, hunted and banded together in social groups, and for good reason. Severe consequences befell tribe members who found themselves separated and alone. Social groups not only provide protection, they teach us valuable life skills, shape our identity and engender a sense of belonging.

We also can draw on social neuroscience research to confirm the importance of connectedness.

In his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” Matthew D. Lieberman asserts that relationships are a critical — though increasingly absent — aspect of a flourishing life. As he describes, “Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion. It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”

Lieberman, in fact, contends that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental than our need for food or shelter. Moreover, we can derive happiness and health benefits from our social brains by being kind to each other and by sharing experiences. Simple acts such as holding someone’s hand or holding a picture of a loved one are correlated with a reduction in pain. Citing research that shows that seeing friends and neighbors and/or volunteering at least once a week have the same effect on personal wellbeing as a significant increase in salary, Lieberman suggests that kindness and connection are the secrets of enduring happiness.   

Since its inception, Galloway Ridge, a life plan community in Pittsboro, NC, has embraced the importance of social connectedness. Galloway Ridge residents are committed to community outreach and kindness. They collectively volunteer more than 32,000 hours of their time and talents annually and, through the Galloway Ridge Charitable Fund, they support local charities, schools and social services agencies.

For example, the community partners with Habitat for Humanity and recently sponsored a home for a beloved employee and her family. The “Annual Day of Service” also is a tradition at Galloway Ridge, one that recently took residents and employees to Carolina Tiger Rescue, a local organization that aims to save and protect wild cats in captivity and in the wild. The day was spent building picnic tables, repairing fences, painting, clearing brush and vines from fence rows and enjoying time with one another.

Galloway Ridge also fosters connectedness through Senior Portal, which is a customizable online platform to manage operations, activities and interaction. The portal serves as an online hub for communications, enabling residents to connect with neighbors and staff and to take care of certain needs online, such as making dining reservations and registering for events.

“Senior Portal has been tremendously beneficial for our residents,” said Missy Johnson, senior director of marketing and sales at Galloway Ridge, who also has a master’s degree in gerontology. “Not only are they using the portal to plug into community activities, but they’re using it to get to know each other and to build relationships based on common interests. Just like volunteerism and charity, this is yet another example of the type of connectedness that’s so important in the lives of our residents.”

In the immortal words of Aristotle, “Man is by nature a social animal. …Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.”

Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being, and the benefits for life plan communities should not be overlooked.

Gina Miller is director of marketing for Senior Portal.

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