Why it’s important to make new friends after 65 (and how to do it)

It can get harder to meet new people as you get older. But being social is a key way to keep your brain sharp and your body healthy — and it’s also fun!

Friends talking to each other

Do you have a group of neighbors you play cards with each week? Or maybe you belong to a hiking club, have a regular coffee date with friends, or sing in a local choir. We don’t need to tell you that being social is a great way to have fun, feel happy, and connect with other people.

Here’s another reason to keep nurturing your social life after 65. Staying engaged with other people can help your body and mind remain healthy as you age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Having strong social connections is good for your brain function too. And it may lower your risk of cognitive decline and dementia, says the CDC.

On the flip side, more and more studies are showing that loneliness and social isolation can be harmful to your health. In fact, the health risks of social isolation for adults over 50 may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. That’s according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Social isolation also raises the risk of dementia and depression.

For some adults, however, staying social and meeting new friends gets harder with age. This may be especially true if you live alone or if you’re retired. When you were younger, there was always some meetup on the calendar: a sports game, a night out, a celebration. Now you might need to put more effort into it.

Not to worry. There are many ways to meet new friends that can lead to a richer social life. Here are some ideas about how to do it — and why it’s key for your brain health.

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The link between being social and brain health

As you age, it’s important to maintain relationships and create new ones. Your friendships can change over time.

You may lose touch with friends who move away when they retire, for example. Or maybe you downsize and move to a new neighborhood, or simply drift apart from certain people. Making new friends in your golden years helps you maintain a strong social network as you age (we’re not talking about Facebook, by the way).

Socializing and meeting new people can help your brain function. “Making new friends is positive, because it’s new information, so it’s a new kind of stimulation,” says Karlene Ball, Ph.D. She’s an experimental psychologist specializing in gerontology and a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

With old friends, you tend to reminisce about the past, she says. That’s valuable and fun. But making new friends requires learning new information and forming new memories. Meeting new people often requires engaging in new activities, which can strengthen your brain.

Joining a book club, picking up a new hobby, learning a new language — these are all things that can keep your brain sharp. And you can meet new people while doing them.

Learning new things strengthens your brain’s plasticity. That’s the brain’s ability to form new connections and physically change as you learn.

Having a strong social network as you age not only helps keep your brain sharp but also slows age-related cognitive decline. That was one of the conclusions of a large-scale report from the Global Council on Brain Health, in collaboration with AARP.

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How to make new friends, based on your personality type

You might be thinking that making new friends is easier said than done. Take that book club, for example. Whether it’s virtual or in person, it requires getting out of your comfort zone and opening up to new people. And that can be hard — or scary, even — depending on the type of person you are.

A good place to start is thinking about your interests and what brings you joy. Or think of things that you’ve always wanted to try. Now’s the time to do them! Here are a few options to consider, based on your interests and personality type.

You love learning and miss your college days. It’s always rewarding to learn new things. So why not head back to the classroom? See if a local college or university near you has continuing education programs for adults.

You can also check out lecture series that are free and open to the public. Some may even be geared specifically toward older adults. You can usually attend the lecture and then socialize with the rest of the group after the talk. Your public libraries, local art museum, community center, or place of worship may also offer free lectures.

You like exploring new hobbies. Find local classes or hobby groups in your area. Many towns have art centers that offer classes in drawing, knitting, pottery, and other arts. Or see if a local craft store offers classes.

There are also more informal groups that meet to do a particular hobby together — everything from coding to woodworking to gardening. They may meet at a local community center or park. You can use Facebook or friend-finder websites like Meetup.com to locate groups in your area.

You’re a fitness fanatic. Working out is good for your brain and your body. And there are plenty of ways you meet new friends while getting fit. One idea is to sign up for a team or group activity such as a bowling league, tennis clinic, or pickleball league.

Or consider joining a gym. Many have fitness classes or other programs specifically for older adults. Prefer outdoor adventures? Find a group that organizes walking or hiking trips or other outdoor activities.

You enjoy volunteering. Volunteer your skills at a local organization that reflects your values. This is a great option if you’re retired and miss the routine of working. Look for opportunities where you volunteer with a group, which is a natural way to meet new people. For example, you might help sort donations at a food bank or join a cleanup day at a local park.

There are volunteer programs specifically designed for older adults too. “For example, there’s been a big project going on for years in Baltimore called Experience Corps,” says Ball. It’s a community-based program that matches volunteers over 50, as literacy tutors, with struggling students. “The older adults go to the school and work with kids on projects. And they’re walking around, they’re having social interactions, and they’re being mentally stimulated. So, it has an impact on physical and mental function.”

Experience Corp now recruits volunteers from around the country.

You’re a bookworm. Reading may be a solitary activity, but discussing the book you’re reading with others is a great way to meet people. Join a book club near you. Or enlist a few neighbors and start your own. Another fun way to get involved: See if your local library needs volunteers. You can help with everything from shelving books to reading to kids during story hour.

You’re a foodie who loves to cook. Food is fuel for the brain. And who doesn’t love bonding over a good meal? There are many ways to socialize around food. Try finding or starting a dinner club with neighbors, where each person takes a turn cooking a healthy dinner for the group. Not into cooking? Find a small group of people to try new restaurants with. Or check a new ethnic food off the list every week.

Bottom line: Putting yourself out there and meeting new people can be hard. But it’s worth the effort. It keeps your mind healthy and your brain sharp. And one more benefit — you’re not just helping your own brain health, you’re helping the brain health of the people around you, too. That’s a gift that anyone can give — just by being out in the world and being friendly. Doing so can add years to your life — and life to your years.

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Additional sources
Socialization and good health: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Lower risk of cognitive decline: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Report on loneliness and health: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Report on social connectedness and brain health: Global Council on Brain Health