Meeting new people and making new social connections may seem easy when you're at school, college or university. But as you get on in life, it's seldom as simple as when you were younger. And if you're finding yourself with too much time on your hands because you've just retired, or your children have just left the nest, you may be feeling increasingly bored or even isolated.
There's lots of evidence to suggest social interaction is important for your emotional and physical wellbeing, while social isolation is thought to have a negative effect on your longevity. Studies suggest that people with plenty of friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues have up to a 50% greater chance of living a long life compared to those who are more isolated.
Researchers from Brigham Young University have even worked out that social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, as being an alcoholic or not taking any exercise, and twice as bad for you as being obese.
So here are a few tips to help you stay connected (as well as make new connections):
Being part of a local community not only helps you feel like you belong, it's also a good way to meet and stay in touch with people in your area. It can also help you build a neighbourhood network, which can prevent you from feeling isolated.
One way to engage with your community is to get talking to your neighbours on a regular basis. Smile and say 'hello' to people you pass on the street on a regular basis, and at some point you'll find an opportunity to introduce yourself and start getting to know them. If you've just moved to a new area, make a point of meeting your neighbours. Or welcome others who have just moved into your area.
Other ways to get involved in your community include joining local groups such as residents' associations and volunteer groups (read our article Could you be a volunteer? to find out more).
Join a club
Hobbies can be useful if you want to widen your social circle. Just ask yourself if there's anything you enjoy doing that could help you connect with other people. Reading is far from a communal experience, but if you join a book club or a reading group you may meet others who share your passion for literature.
Other groups you may want to join include a walking group (to find out if there's a Ramblers branch in your area, visit ramblers.org.uk ), or a sport- or activity-based club such as a nearby gym or leisure centre (find lots of different activities in your local area by visiting change4life.co.uk ).
And if you enjoy card games, why not take up bridge and join a bridge club? If you're in England, the English Bridge Union can help you find a local club as well as a teacher for those who don't already know how to play.
Look up an old friend
It takes time and energy to stay in touch with people, and over the years you may have had other priorities - your career, for example, or your family. But now that you have more time on your hands, why not try to reconnect with those you haven't been in touch with in a while?
These days the internet is making it much easier to find people you've lost touch with. Start with social media websites such as Facebook - you may be surprised how many people you'll find from your past. And social media websites aren't just for finding people, they make it much easier to keep up with where they are and what they're doing too.
Alternatively, dust down one of your old address books and give someone you haven't heard from in ages a call. You may well make their day - and you could end up rekindling your friendship.
Finally, the Campaign to End Loneliness aims to reduce loneliness in older age. If you - or someone you know - is older and affected by loneliness, there's support and information available at campaigntoendloneliness.org