How your peers can help you age well

Our peers are an important part of our daily lives. They can be classmates, colleagues, teammates, or other friends who share similar interests. We experience many of our best moments with our peers and lean on them during times of hardship. But did you know that when it comes to our health and well-being, leaning on our peers for support may help to improve health and social outcomes? By sharing advice and encouragements based on their own lived experiences, research has shown that our peer-support system can help us stay physically active, quit smoking and drinking alcohol, and lowering blood sugar to manage diabetes (among other things). 

Peers can encourage more physical activity  
Whether you have trouble sticking to a regular exercise plan, or need an extra boost of motivation, leaning on friends can help. Research has shown that peer-led exercise programs and peer-support programs may improve adherence to physical activity among older adults. Walking groups are a great example of group activity that has benefits for both your health and well-being. They help promote physical activity while having added benefits including increased motivation and opportunity for socializing.

Peers can help you quit smoking and drinking alcohol
If you’re struggling to quit smoking or have alcohol problems, research shows that peer-led programs can be more effective than facing the challenge on your own. For older adults who engaged in group-based programs, they were 50% to 130% more likely to successfully quit smoking in comparison to self-help (for example, reading literature on smoking cessation on your own). Older adults who attended standardized peer-led Alcoholics Anonymous and professionally led Twelve-Step Facilitation programs were 3% to up to 42% more likely to abstain from alcohol use as a result. 

Peers can help manage diabetes 
Chronic diseases like diabetes are often “self-managed” – a model of care that empowers patients to be in control of their own treatments. This can involve a lot of responsibility and work, leaving patients to feel overwhelmed. That’s where your peers come in. Other people who have diabetes are more likely to understand what it is like to live with the disease day-to-day, so they are in a good position to provide support, encouragement and advice based on their own experiences. Peer support can complement other healthcare services by creating the emotional, social, and practical help necessary for managing the disease.

Adapting peer support in times of pandemic
Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic and measures put in place to control it, in-person peer-support programs or services may not be possible or recommended at this time. On the bright side, these types of programs and services can be delivered and accessed virtually through telephones, smartphones, computers, tablets, videoconferencing tools, and mobile applications. 

To learn more about how peer support can benefit your health and well-being, read more in our resources below. 

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DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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