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Healthy ageing in retirement communities

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The World Health Organisation defines ‘healthy ageing’ as the process of developing and maintaining abilities that enable wellbeing in older age (1). It cites critical abilities as being able to build and maintain relationships and contribute to society, in part by engaging in individual, and/or group-based activities. This level of social engagement is known to provide a sense of belonging, social identity, and fulfilment (2), all of which further contribute to an enhanced quality of life.

A wealth of research supports why wellness, community connection, and activities are the key to a happy, healthy ageing journey. For retirement communities, these factors can play an important role in quality of life, satisfaction, and longevity.



Connected Communities

Strong networks allow people to tap into the type of assistance that has been shown to promote a sense of independence, control and autonomy that so many people fear losing in later life (3). And, while these networks can grow organically over time, some specialist housing groups are now choosing to work with providers who are able to extend their suite of wellbeing services to further benefit their communities.


Better Together

One of the many advantages of being part of a lively retirement community is the varied social life on offer. The same can be said of organised activities. It’s clear that offering opportunities to exercise, indulge in hobbies and pursue interests solo or part of a sociable group can ensure more people experience the health benefits of staying mentally and physically agile and active – of which there are many (4).


Physical Wellbeing

Physical activity is good for us at any age, but experts are now highlighting its increased importance in later life, particularly for those living as part of a community (5). Indeed, studies show that exercise acts as an effective intervention, consistently improving quality of life, while simultaneously reducing frailty (6).

Research also suggests that belonging to a greater number of social groups predicts greater physical activity following retirement. More group memberships consistently predict better physical health via greater physical activity, which can lead to reduced depressive symptoms and improved mood (7). Overarching themes from group based exercise studies in retirement facilities include benefits such as functional health, active mind, enjoyment, social connectedness, and mutual support (8).

Evidence even suggests that even low-intensity exercise such as yoga can have profound health impacts. Recent studies support the hypothesis that Yoga counteracts the ageing process and regular practice is associated with anatomical changes in areas of the brain associated with cognitive decline and memory loss (9,10). Studies also find that Yoga contributes to better quality of life, improved mental-wellbeing, and sustained independence (11).

Social Value

It is well-known that social participation is important for healthy ageing. Engaging in activities that support social contact and the preservation of community reduces social isolation among older adults (12). Low levels of participation in social activities and limited social networks can pose a threat to older adults’ physical and mental health (13).

Evidence suggests that engaging in social leisure activities such as hobbies and cultural activities has a significant impact on people 55 and above, contributing to improved social integration and connectedness (14). Maintaining hobbies has also been found to have numerous health benefits such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease in older adults and reducing the risk of vascular cognitive impairment (15,16).



Studies have shown that social lifestyles that include volunteering, have a direct impact on our health. Voluntary activities not only enhance the integration of older people into society but also have profound physical and mental benefits such as reducing depression and enhancing physical function (17,18,19). Compared with non-volunteering peers, older volunteers feel less lonely and have more friends, social resources, and structure in their lives (20).


Social Networks

Social isolation and loneliness are linked to poorer health, earlier death, and reduced quality of life among older adults (21). Large social networks have been shown to protect from cognitive decline, increase mortality, and improve mental health (22). Despite this, research has found that retirement living can create barriers to expanding social networks (23). Studies show that community exercise classes and support groups facilitate the expansion of social networks and help to reduce loneliness and isolation (24).



        1. Healthy ageing and functional ability [Internet]. www.who.int. WHO; 2020 [cited 2023Jan1]. Available from:       https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/healthy-ageing-and-functional-ability

  1. Takagi D, Kondo K, Kawachi I. Social participation and mental health: Moderating effects of gender, social role and Rurality. BMC Public Health. 2013;13(1).
  2. Rafnsson SB, Shankar A, Steptoe A. Longitudinal influences of social network characteristics on subjective well-being of older adults. Journal of Aging and Health. 2015;27(5):919–34.
  3. Santini ZI, Jose PE, Koyanagi A, Meilstrup C, Nielsen L, Madsen KR, et al. Formal social participation protects physical health through Enhanced Mental Health: A longitudinal mediation analysis using three consecutive waves of the survey of Health, Ageing and retirement in Europe (share). Social Science & Medicine. 2020;251:112906.
  4. Kojima G, Iliffe S, Jivraj S, Walters K. Association between frailty and quality of life among community-dwelling older people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2016;70(7):716–21.
  5. Oliveira JS, Pinheiro MB, Fairhall N, Walsh S, Chesterfield Franks T, Kwok W, et al. Evidence on physical activity and the prevention of frailty and sarcopenia among older people: A systematic review to inform the World Health Organization Physical Activity Guidelines. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2020;17(12):1247–58.
  6. Stevens M, Cruwys T, Haslam C, Wang V. Social group memberships, physical activity, and physical health following retirement: A six‐year follow‐up from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. British Journal of Health Psychology. 2021;26(2):505–24.
  7. Khan KM. The effect of group-based exercise on cognitive performance and mood in seniors residing in intermediate care and self-care retirement facilities: A randomised controlled trial. Yearbook of Sports Medicine. 2010;2010:375–6.
  8. Madhivanan P, Krupp K, Waechter R, Shidhaye R. Yoga for healthy ageing: Science or hype? Advances in Geriatric Medicine and Research. 2021Jul13;
  9. Patel NK, Akkihebbalu S, Espinoza SE, Chiodo LK. Perceptions of a community-based yoga intervention for older adults. Activities, Adaptation & Aging. 2011Apr;35(2):151–63.
  10. Eyre HA, Acevedo B, Yang H, Siddarth P, Van Dyk K, Ercoli L, et al. Changes in neural connectivity and memory following a yoga intervention for older adults: A pilot study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2016;52(2):673–84.
  11. Donovan NJ, Blazer D. Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: Review and commentary of a National Academies Report. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2020Aug19;28(12):1233–44.
  12. Levasseur M, Desrosiers J, Whiteneck G. Accomplishment level and satisfaction with social participation of older adults: Association with quality of life and best correlates. Quality of Life Research. 2010;19(5):665–75.
  13. Toepoel V. Ageing, leisure, and social connectedness: How could leisure help reduce social isolation of older people? Social Indicators Research. 2012;113(1):355–72.
  14. Wang X, Dong J-Y, Shirai K, Yamagishi K, Kokubo Y, Saito I, et al. Having hobbies and the risk of cardiovascular disease incidence: A japan public health center-based study. Atherosclerosis. 2021Sep21;335:1–7.
  15. Verghese J, Wang C, Katz MJ, Sanders A, Lipton RB. Leisure activities and risk of vascular cognitive impairment in older adults. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology. 2009;22(2):110–8.
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