We’re social animals

Seniors clubs aren’t just fun, they’re also good for our health

Many hundreds of Minnesota women — and at least one great horned owl — are named Lois.

The women have their own club, The Lois Club, with membership limited to women of that name. (The owl is an imprinted member of the University of Minnesota Raptor Center’s education program.)

Retired Northwest Airline pilots likewise have a club just for themselves. It’s called the Retired Northwest Airlines Pilots Association or RNPA. (I’m an adjunct member.)

Both organizations, which consist mainly of senior citizens, hold annual conventions. They also meet locally. My one Lois friend, Lois Nedorosky, says the purpose of the meetings she attends in the Twin Cities is purely social: “We eat lunch and visit.”

The same is true of the pilots.

But what’s really going on here? Why do we — and all the other luncheon groups and morning coffee klatches that have sprung up among seniors — get together like this?

We’ll tell you it’s for the camaraderie. The fun.

The HealthPartners health-care organization says there’s more to it than that. Although we don’t think of it that way, we’re promoting better emotional and mental health for ourselves: “Relationships can come and go over our lifetimes. They give us the sense of community we need at every age, but especially as we get older. Maintaining relationships can nourish your mind and soul, but they need care and feeding if they’re to stay healthy.”

Keeping current, catching up, discussing the old days — yes, even telling the same old stories — it all keeps your mind functioning. There’s even some evidence that staying connected like this can lower blood pressure, and potentially reduce the risk for cardiovascular problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Social isolation (which can be a big problem during our cold Minnesota winters) can have the opposite effect.

According to AARP The Magazine, isolation is a bigger problem for men than women: “Men, especially as they age, tend to become solitary beasts, much less likely to form deep lasting relationships than women are. That, researchers say, can be detrimental to wellbeing and health. In fact, the lack of positive social relationships [in men] is comparable to smoking and alcohol consumption for increasing mortality risk.”

So it’s surprising, and also heartening, that retired Northwest pilots, who are nearly all men, actually formed the RNPA.

And it’s sad that it’s facing extinction. Every year more pilots “fly West,” or die, with no one to take their place, with Northwest Airlines now being defunct.

A great many Loises, likewise, have reached their 80s and 90s, the name having been extremely popular for baby girls in the 1920s and ’30s.

And therein lies the rub of all senior organizations.

But what does any of this have to do with Lois the Owl? Nothing, really. Except maybe The Lois Club would like to adopt her as their mascot.

It would mean one new member!

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess. Send comments and questions to [email protected].