If we’ve learned to appreciate one thing this past year and a half, it’s that social isolation is not for the faint-hearted. And while many of us often consider nutrition, movement, and mindfulness as the cornerstones of wellbeing, just as critical is social connection.
The research suggests we do better with connection. Babies who receive skin-to-skin contact after being born tend to cry less, experience lower levels of stress, and adjust more easily to postnatal life. A meta-analysis of 148 studies and 308,849 participants found people with stronger social relationships experienced a 50% boost in longevity and survival likelihood.
One study of support systems and mortality even found that, while low support and high negativity increased mortality – as a baseline, negative support from family still generated a buffering effect that actually decreased mortality for people with chronic pain.
And while it depends on the person, on the whole – connecting with people tend to be good for our wellbeing. This is why Muse couldn’t be more excited to partner with Rendever, a ground-breaking company paving the way for social connectedness and shared experience through virtual reality for older adults and seniors.
Seniors and older adults are often at higher risk for loneliness and social isolation. As a more vulnerable population, it can be harder for older adults to find pathways to feeling close & connected, especially with the heightened risks brought by the pandemic. Family and friends with older loved ones might be wondering, “so, how can we lessen the effects of loneliness and create more opportunities that increase access to supportive and longevity-fortifying social support for older adults?”
First, it’s essential to explore the nature of loneliness and how it can impact our health.
The Risks of Not Getting Enough Social Connection
For all our social media, it seems that we’re facing an epidemic of loneliness. U.S. Surveys suggest that, on average, 1 in 3 adults reports feeling lonely, with those over 80 years old experiencing loneliness at rates as high as 40-50%.
Some people can be more susceptible to loneliness. From personal factors like genetics, cognitive appraisal, and environment, to socially limiting factors like immigration status, mental or physical disability, language barriers, discrimination, and more.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness doesn’t just mean being alone. Psychologically, loneliness refers to our perceived lack of social connection, a gap between our current social interactions and those we wish to have. Some people find they can be alone without feeling lonely, while others may feel lonely in a room packed with people. At its simplest, loneliness is the distress of feeling separated from the connections we crave, which often bring meaning and color to our lives.
Loneliness and Health
Loneliness seems to have a profound effect on our stress response, contributing to a wide variety of physical and psychological health impacts.
Studies shared by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) have tied loneliness to:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Decreased immune function
- Cognitive decline
According to Dr. Steve Cole, Ph.D., director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at UCLA,
“Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.”
While opportunities for in-person social connection may be limited, there are many options older adults can explore to help increase social engagement and manage stress, like mindful meditation.
Benefits of Mindful Meditation
Research suggests the benefits of meditation tend to center around stress management, concentration, and enhanced wellbeing. A study published by Standford University While meditation can take many forms, meditative practice usually involves maintaining focus on an intention, mantra, or object. In this way, meditation gives individuals the space to become more aware of their thoughts, which can increase flexibility in how we perceive and react to the intensity of our emotions and stressors.
Physical Benefits of Meditation
Meditation seems to impact physical health mainly through regulating our stress response, discussed above. A significant area of research: meditation’s impact on blood pressure.
A review published by the American Heart Association found the available research suggests meditation can help reduce blood pressure, also reducing the related risks of heart disease, strokes, and blood clots.
The research-backed physical benefits of meditation may include:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or blood clot
- Reduced symptoms of menopause
- Lessened inflammation
- Improved pain management
- Decreased symptoms of stress-related or induced conditions (e.g., digestion issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, stomach ulcers, clinical colds, diabetes)
Mental and Emotional Benefits of Meditation
Generally speaking, research suggests meditation grants us greater awareness of our thoughts. According to the American Psychological Association, this enhanced awareness can help support cognitive flexibility, which in turn can improve our ability to appraise stressors with reduced psychological stress and to cope and recover from our stressors with greater ease.
Meditation may actually help slow age-related mental decline, impacting memory and focus abilities as we grow older. For example, researchers at UCLA found that people who meditate showed increased white matter connections in their brain and reduced grey matter loss. These findings suggest meditation can help slow the rate of mental decline that accompanies natural aging (and which can be exacerbated by the effects of loneliness and stress.)
The research-backed benefits of mindful meditation can include:
- Decreased negative mood
- Reduced depressive symptoms and anxious thoughts
- Less mental rumination and psychological distress
- Reduced emotional reactivity
- Improved ability to cope and recover from stressors
- Better working (short-term) memory capacity
- Enhanced ability to sustain attention and focus
- Reduced age-related cognitive decline
For these reasons and more, we at Muse are thrilled to partner with Rendever to explore the intersection of mindful meditation and virtual reality, and how it can facilitate social connection and wellbeing to benefit older adults and seniors.
Now Partnering with Rendever!
With older adults at particularly high risk for the impacts of stress and social isolation, we’re honored and excited to work with Rendever to expand the library of meditations available to seniors and senior living staff.
To create a more immersive, relaxing, and effective VR experience, Muse’s meditation programs will be paired with immersive video from Rendever’s Breath application. From here, users can design custom meditation styles and choose VR environments that help them relax. If you want, Rendever’s VR makes it so you could even meditate on the moon!
Led by renowned guides including Bart Van Melik, Chrissy Carter, Eisha Goldstein, and more, Muse’s meditations are designed to inspire feelings of contentment, peace, gratitude, and joy.
Learn more about getting involved with RendeverLive monthly events HERE >
Looking to begin your meditative practice?
Explore Muse’s app with over 500 meditation programs, with collections for sleep, stress, performance, and more.
- Explore: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review HERE >
- Read: Healthy Birth Practice #6: Keep Mother and Baby Together— It’s Best for Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding HERE >
- Discover: Life Sustaining Irritations? Relationship Quality and Mortality in the Context of Chronic Illness HERE >
- Learn about: Loneliness as a Public Health Issue: The Impact of Loneliness on Health Care Utilization Among Older Adults HERE >
- Explore: Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose health risks from the U.S. National Institute of Health HERE >
- Discover: Life Event, Stress and Illness HERE >
- Read: Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction (American Heart Association) HERE >
- Learn about: Meditation to Boost Health and Wellbeing (American Heart Association) HERE >
- Read more on: Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic account HERE >
- Explore: What are the Benefits of Mindfulness (by the APA) HERE >
- Learn about: Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy HERE >
- Discover: Is meditation the push-up for the brain? By Science Daily HERE >