New research published by BMJ Open suggests that membership of social groups such as book clubs or church groups after retirement is linked with improved health and wellbeing.
The research backs NICE’s recent recommendations advising councils to do more to offer group activities to older people in order to tackle loneliness and improve wellbeing.
While many older people are active well into their retirement, figures suggest that between 5 and 16% of people over 65 say they are often or always lonely. The Mental Health Foundation also estimates that around a fifth of adults aged over 65 living in the community have depression.
In the latest study, researchers from the University of Queensland tracked the health of 424 people for 6 years after they had retired. Their health was then compared with the same number of people matched for age, sex, and health status, but who were still working.
Each participant was asked how many different organisations, clubs and societies they belonged to. They were also asked to complete a validated score to assess quality of life and subjective physical health.
The study found that membership of social groups was associated with quality of life, and that compared with those still working, every group membership lost after retirement was associated with a 10% drop in quality of life 6 years later.
If a person belonged to 2 groups before they retired, and kept them up over the next 6 years, their risk of death was 2%. But this rose to 5% if they gave up membership of 1 group, and 12% if they gave up membership of both.
The researchers also found that this impact was comparable with the benefits gained from physical exercise both before and after retirement.