Spending time being sociable can be just as good for future physical health as mental wellbeing, the study suggests.
Bingo was one of the most beneficial activities as it involves being with other people as well as keeping alert monitoring numbers being called out to see if they won a prize.
But even simpler activities like going out for a meal with friends or having a night away could be beneficial, said the research by Chicago's Rush University Medical Center.
Other social activities found to help include voluntary work, attending religious services, visiting relatives and 'off-track' betting on horse races.
The long term study of almost 1,000 adults looked at how much help subjects needed looking after themselves as they entered their 80s. It found that the most sociable were less likely to need assistance getting dressed or going upstairs.
The authors wrote: "Higher levels of social activity are associated with a decreased risk of becoming disabled."
It is due to be published in a future issue of medical publication, the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.
Lead researcher Bryan James said: "Social activity has long been recognized as an essential component of healthy aging, but now we have strong evidence that it is also related to better everyday functioning and less disability in old age.
"The findings are exciting because social activity is potentially a risk factor that can be modified to help older adults avoid the burdens of disability."
The centre is conducting a long term ageing study of 954 'older adults' whose current average age is now 82.
None began with any form of disability and the researchers have monitored not just their physical condition but also the range of activities they participate in.
It found those who regular took part in social activities were most able to perform basic daily tasks as they got older - such as feeding and dressing themselves, going to the toilet and general mobility.
For many elderly people, being able to take care of these tasks can mean the difference between looking after themselves or needing daily attention or living in an old people's home.
The study said: "Results showed that a person who reported a high level of social activity was about twice as likely to remain free of a disability involving activities of daily living than a person with a low level of social activity."
The researchers believe social activity is related to how the brain controls the rest of the body, including muscles and other physical functions. They all combine to 'maintain functional independence' said the study.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
The Telegraph in the UK:
Posted by BA Haller at 6:42 PM