How your peers can play an essential role in healthy aging

Our peers are an essential part of our daily lives. They can be classmates, colleagues, teammates, or other friends with 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 improve health and social outcomes? By sharing advice and encouragement 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 benefits your health and well-being. They help promote physical activity while having added benefits, including increased motivation, and socializing opportunities.


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 alone. Older adults who engaged in group-based programs were 50% to 130% more likely to successfully quit smoking than 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.


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 health and care. This can involve a lot of responsibility and work, making some patients feel overwhelmed. That’s where your peers come in. Other people with diabetes are more likely to understand what it is like to live with the disease daily, so they are in an excellent position to provide support, encouragement and advice based on their own experiences. Peer support can complement other services by creating the emotional, social, and practical help necessary for managing the disease.


To learn more about how peer support can benefit your health and well-being, read 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 new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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