Dating can certainly combat loneliness, but it can also make you wish you were home alone instead. It can take you from the heights of anticipation and excitement to the lows of disappointment in mere seconds. And dating as a retiree might have the added issues of biological time, health concerns or the emotional loss of a partner to make getting to know one another that much harder -- but don't let that deter you.
Think of dating like taking cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is good for the body, and most people who take it want the benefits, but don't necessarily look forward to taking it over and over again. But it's also one of those healthy substances that can be bad for you if you take it in excess or improperly.
With dating, sometimes you just have to close your eyes, take a big gulp and believe that eventually making a great match will do wonders for your heart and will make up for all of the gut-wrenchingly bad dates. Seeing the results of getting out there and having it go a little better or easier each time is good medicine for the spirits -- an ongoing exercise in learning to laugh at yourself and with others. But can it really benefit the body, too?
Making and growing social connections is very important to overall health. Having friendships and sharing experiences can decrease depression and loneliness and encourage physical activity [source: The New York Times]. People do live and enjoy life alone to a great measure, but studies show, for example, that we laugh 30 times more when we're with others than when we're alone [source: Phillips]. Being social and having friendships brings laughter, and laughter benefits the body's organs, can increase tolerance to pain, and relieves stress and anxiety at any age [source: Phillips]. It may be enough to "grow old together" with friends and family and forgo all of the late-in-life romantic stuff, but there are some characteristics that set dating apart from just socializing.
Does retiree dating have any health benefits? Yes. Take a look at what it can do for body and mind.
A common expression after enjoying a really fun or romantic time with a date, whether a spouse or someone you meet for the first time, is "I felt like a kid again" or "He/she makes me feel young." Best friends and good buddies can act and laugh like children when they're together, but romantic attractions and shared enjoyment seem to take the years off in a very specific way. Exercising, laughing and even physical attraction can release endorphins, the so-called "feel good" hormones that bring a natural kind of high, and often this hormonal rush of energy leaves people wanting more [source: Phillips]. Another uplifting and chemical reaction comes in the form of pheromones -- released as a scent -- which are mostly linked to the opposite sex or mating attraction in animals and humans [source: Pines]. Pheromones might trigger emotional and physical stirrings in the memory and mind that enhance attraction and again, leave people wanting more.
Do these chemical reactions improve the health of dating retirees? Science may not definitively support dinner and long walks on the beach as health boosters, but a desire for companionship and feelings of romance -- chemical or emotional -- can result in physical improvements. Attraction and enjoyment in dating is either there or just not there, but if it is happening, you likely want it to continue and will take some effort in getting ready for more dates. Personal grooming, involving anything from barber and salon visits to perfuming and adorning, sunning and clothes shopping, builds confidence. Getting ready for dates can improve self-esteem, which is connected to better health and less depression [source: Dye]. Even the smiles that come along with happy thoughts of dating or with memories of dates that were laughably bad can elevate your mood and health [source: Johnston].
Dating can also involve getting at least a little bit active, whether going outside for a walk or bike ride or heading indoors for dancing. Exercising the mind and body may even be part of getting ready to meet someone; it can get people moving in order to look better. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), staying active improves balance, prevents or delays disease, and increases energy, among other benefits, and if you're dating and being active at the same time, it is good for the body [source: NIA]. When you look good you feel good, many say, but when your body feels good you also may look better because you have confidence in how your body is working -- and maybe even how you work your body to its best advantage on a date.
Dating can be stressful and exhilarating, as well as relaxing and heartbreaking, all of which do something to a person's insides. Stress is bad for the heart and mind, and heartbreak can lead to social withdrawal or loneliness, which may increase depression and decrease mental sharpness [source: The New York Times]. On the other hand, dates that involve activities like reading, dancing and playing backgammon, for instance, can reduce the onset of dementia. And simple hand-holding has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety [sources: Verghese et al, Overdeep].
A Scientific American study released on Valentine's Day 2011 even showed that romance and love make the brain function better [source: Scientific American]. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology, the study found that the blood and 12 parts of the brain get pumped and fired up from attraction and the enjoyment of being in love [source: Scientific American]. So dating may increase the health of your neurotransmitters as well as the outer body that leads to attraction and getting them firing in the first place.
If all of this talk about romance, physical attraction and hand-holding is intimidating, even exploring some virtual dating may have benefits for your health. Using technology for getting to know people involves exercises in conversation, quick thinking and maybe even flat-out flirting that can keep the mind sharp and maybe get the body moving in preparation for an in-person meeting. It also restarts all of those social skills that may have been dormant for some second-time-around or first-time daters in a new stage of life. Having good and bad interactions online can be helpful and healthful by increasing self-esteem for real-world dating and relieving the stress of getting back into circulation, mentally and physically. So if you're ready to date again or to just get started, keep in mind that it can be good for the brain and the body. Even science endorses it.
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More Great Links
- Baker, Molly. "OMG! My Grandparents Are My BFF!" The Wall Street Journal. May 9, 2011. (May 9, 2011)http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703280904576247152267875970.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Improving and Extending Quality of Life Among Older Americans: 2010 At a Glance." CDC.gov. Feb. 25, 2010. (May 10, 2011)http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/aging.htm
- Cleveland Clinic. "Stress Management and Your Heart." 2011. (May 12, 2011)http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/stress/stressheart.aspx
- Dye, Lee. ABC News.com. "Why Self-Image Suffers Among Seniors." April 7, 2010. (May 14, 2011)http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/DyeHard/image-suffers-seniors/story?id=10301708
- Johnston, Daniel H. "Smiling, Moods and Health." Georgia Psychological Association. 2011. (May 14, 2011)http://www.gapsychology.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=41
- Montenegro, Xenia. "Lifestyles, Dating and Romance: A Study of Midlife Singles." AARP Magazine. September 2003. (May 6, 2011)assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/singles.pdf
- National Institute on Aging (NIA). "Exercise and Physical Therapy: Getting Fit for Life." May 28, 2010. (May 8, 2011)http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/exercise.htm
- New York Times. "Health Guide: Depression - Elderly." Aug. 22, 2008. (May 12, 2011) Sometimes relieving loneliness through group outings, volunteer work, or having regular visitors can help with depression.
- Overdeep, Meghan. "The Health Benefits of Holding Hands." More.com. 2011. (May 6, 2011)http://www.more.com/relationships/dating-sex-love/health-benefits-holding-hands
- Phillips, Suzanne. "Laughter as a Powerful and Inexhaustible Resource." PBS.org. 2009. (May 13, 2011)http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/laughter-powerful-and-inexhaustible-resource
- Pines, Maya. "A Secret Sense in the Human Nose: Pheromones and Mammals." Howard Hughes Medical Center. 2008. (May 14, 2011)http://www.hhmi.org/senses/d230.html
- Roach, John. "This Is Your Brain on Love." Cosmic Log on MSNBC.com. Feb. 14, 2011. (May 6, 2011)http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=your-brain-in-love-graphsci
- Scientific American. "Your Brain in Love." February 2011. (May 6, 2011)http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=your-brain-in-love-graphsci
- Shellenbarger, Sue. "Teens Take Elders to Tech Boot Camp." The Wall Street Journal. Jan. 12, 2011. (May 9, 2011)http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704515904576075763253410454.html
- Verghese, Joe, et al. "Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly." New England Journal of Medicine. June 19, 2003. (May 8, 2011)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12815136