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Social links vital for men’s physical and emotional wellbeing

Men’s Health week occurs this month and I’d like to explore an area of health outside the traditional considerations of physical wellbeing and illness.

Research shows that being socially connected is vital for physical and emotional wellbeing. Retirement challenges us in that we no longer have the connections the workplace brings.

Social connections aren’t simply about having people to spend time with to keep us occupied, although that is important. We know from data that having purpose is vital to wellbeing. Social connections should bring purpose into our days. Social connections, and our network of relationships, are beneficial in their reciprocity. That is, each person benefits from the interaction, each is nurtured by it, and it brings meaning and purpose to both participants.

An Omnipoll Survey conducted last year revealed most Australians have half the number of close friends they did 10 years ago. Men are more at risk than women, with 40 per cent of men having “low levels of connection” and 15 per cent found to have no close friends outside their long-term relationship. These figures are cause for concern when we think about men’s health.

What can the men in our lives, or indeed those of you reading this article, do to ensure they or you aren’t in the group of those whose low levels of social interaction potentially impact on your sense of purpose or wellbeing?

We need to constantly adjust as we move through our life stages, and moving beyond early adulthood is no exception. Recognising we need to make a few changes is no indication of failure, simply a response to the world of change that we live in.

The solution is closer and easier than we might think.

Get to know your neighbours. Knowing those who live close by can give a real sense of connection, even if you don’t have a lot to do with each other. Humans are essentially social creatures, and need to belong to a group. Those living in physical proximity are a great start to help you to feel connected.

Become a volunteer. Not only will you reap the health and wellbeing benefits of being a volunteer, you will have the opportunity to give back to your local community. It’s a win win situation for all. Volunteering opportunities are wide and varied and most organisations are always looking for the unique skill set that volunteers (especially older volunteers) can bring.

Check out what your local government – council or shire – has to offer. Local government has long been supportive of local residents being connected locally, rather than seeking to work and play further from where they live. Your local government will have a wide range of sporting groups, hobbies or exercise classes, with many tailored to those over 50.

Join a local group. It could be your local Probus, Lions or Rotary Club. Look out for notices at the shops or in your local newspaper. There will no doubt be notices in this newspaper for groups that may interest you.

For the blokes reading this, consider joining a Men’s Shed. As a woman, the therapeutic benefits of a Men’s Shed are a mystery to me. However, I’m told there is something very cathartic for a man in simply being in a shed. Apparently, just being surrounded by the tools of your trade, the familiar smells and sounds has a positive effect. Even if the time amounts to nothing more than a good old yarn with a mate, or a chance to enjoy a cuppa uninterrupted away from the usual pace of everyday life, Men’s Sheds have proved to be an important place for social interaction and connections to be nurtured.

A quick glance at the Men’s Sheds of WA website reveals there are over 180 registered Men’s Sheds in Western Australia either operational or in development.

Being a part of a Men’s Shed provides opportunities to participate actively in a safe, friendly and welcoming environment where men are able to work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time, in the company of other men.

The sheds promote the health and wellbeing of male members and encourages social inclusion and connection.

For those of you wondering, don’t let a diagnosis of dementia stop you from joining a Men’s Shed. Alzheimer’s WA is a part of the Men’s Shed movement with three operational Men’s Sheds dedicated to men who are living with dementia.

Men’s Health week is a good time to consider your own health. We are living longer, and we all want those extra years to be healthy and not spent with a minimal level of wellbeing and enjoyment of life due to the impacts of poor health.

Part of this is ensuring your social wellbeing is catered for. Make sure you aren’t a ‘Mr 15%’. Reduce your risk of becoming socially isolated as you get older. Do what you have done throughout your lifetime and build new relationships and purpose as you move through one phase of your life to another. Whether you drop into your local Men’s Shed and make some new connections, join a walking group or volunteer in an organisation whose work is meaningful to you, take a stand for your wellbeing this month. Make the changes required to build your health and wellbeing as you move through your life’s journey.

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