By Gabe Sanders PhD, NSCA-CSCS
Social isolation is a very serious and real issue that older adults and other individuals battling with depression must be aware of and learn how to cope.
Social isolation occurs when people become withdrawn from other people and therefore, avoid human contact and interactions altogether. Over time, social isolation can be devastating for both the withdrawn person and the families helping a loved one that is isolated.
While there is no simple solution for this problem, you should know research has shown that social isolation is related to morbidity and additional diseases and taking immediate action is of utmost importance.
A simple action plan should include a light exercise regimen
Exercise is a great method to help cope with social isolation because it can counter the negative effects of depression and social isolation in a number of ways.
The first is that exercise forces a person to get up and start moving. More often than not, this would require an individual to get out of the house, go to an exercise facility, and be physically active.
Exercising at a fitness facility is recommended because it provides opportunities to interact with other people of all ages. These social interactions can serve as a medication for withdrawn people to help them “get through” their depressed feelings and anxieties.
If possible, hiring a fitness trainer can significantly improve your exercise experience because a good trainer will work with you and talk to you throughout an exercise session and help you feel good about yourself and your physical fitness.
In addition to the social aspect, exercise is great for your brain because it improves blood flow to certain regions like the hippocampus, which is responsible for controlling emotions and memory.
Lack of exercise can have negative effects
Lack of exercise can negatively affect blood flow to your brain and can lead to additional symptoms of social isolation. In fact, avoiding exercise for as little as ten days can significantly reduce blood flow to your brain.
Research has shown that once an individual is severely withdrawn, something can happen in the brain that even exercise may not be able to improve/ reverse vital cellular brain functions that are necessary for your health.
While it is never too late to begin an exercise and/or physical activity regimen, one should take notice that the sooner a regimen is commenced, the better a person will feel. Waiting too long may make for a longer more difficult road to recovery.
Make exercise a priority!
Intentionally work an exercise/physical activity session into your day, even if you exercise at home. My best recommendation for individuals dealing with social isolation is to be deliberate about getting out of the house.
You can join a fitness center, older adult club, support group or find a neighbor to be active with as much as possible. The more human interaction and contact you can have with the addition of exercise and physical activity, the more positive impact it will have on your overall health!
*For more examples of exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
**Consult with a physician and/or medical healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen
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Leasure JL, Decker L. Social isolation prevents exercise-induced proliferation of hippocampal progenitor cells in female rats. Hippocampus. 19(10): 907-912. DOI: 10.1002/hipo.20563
Alfini AJ, Weiss LR, Leitner BP, et al. Hippocampal and Cerebral Blood Flow after Exercise Cessation in Master Athletes. Frontier in Aging Neuroscience. 2016; 8: 184.