Older adults who spend less time socializing experience more rapid decline in motor function, a new study has found.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, suggested that elderly who are more social might be better protected against the loss of motor abilities than unsocial people.
Loss of motor abilities often leads to reduced muscle strength, loss of speed and dexterity.
Dr. Aron Buchman, associate professor of neurological sciences at Rush University Medical Center, said: "It's not just running around the track that is good for you...Our research suggests that engaging in social activities may also be protective against loss of motor abilities.
"If the causal relationship is confirmed by others, the implications are enormous for interventions that can help the elderly. Our data raise the possibility that we can slow motor decline and possibly delay its adverse health outcomes by supporting social engagement - a relatively low-cost solution to a very large public health problem."
To reach a conclusion, researchers surveyed 906 old individuals from retirement facilities, subsidized housing complexes, church groups and social service agencies in northeastern Illinois. All those participating in the study had no signs of dementia or history of Parkinson's disease or stroke.
At first, the participants were asked to fill up a survey, which noted their level of participation in various social interactions, like volunteer work, visiting pals or relatives, attending church or taking part in sporting events. A five-point scale was used to measure the frequency of participation in these activities.
A rating of one on the scale meant participation in a particular activity once a year or less; two indicated participation several times a year; three, several times a month; four, several times a week; and five, showed that the participants interacted socially nearly every day. Demographic information, weight, height and disabilities were also recorded.
This was followed by an annual calculation of the basic motor function of the participants. This assessment included muscle strength in the arms and legs, and motor performance, including walking and balance. Participants were keenly observed for an average of five years.
The results of the study showed that motor decline was faster in those whose social interaction was less; in fact, a one-point decrease in a participant's social activity was associated with approximately 33-percent more rapid rate of decline of motor function.