Monday, August 17, 2009

Social Engagement Theory and Walking: Just Say Hello

Journal Entry, August 16, 2009
: Weight = 173.2; Coinage = $.67; 23 pennies, 1 nickel, 4 dimes

Journal Entry, August 17, 2009: weight = 173.2; Coinage = $.74, 24 pennies, 1 nickel, 2 dimes, 1 quarter; Glass bottles retrieved and canned = 6; Ground Scores = 2, 1 electric pliers and 1 recyclable sport shirt; Best coinage = old nickel found in curb, a quarter in a newspaper machine.

Feature: The last thing the Monewalker wants to do early in the morning during his zoom walk is to engage with fellow humans. The effort breaks focus, slows the walk, requires social energy, and can lead to lost time as in “Do you know where Canal Street is? Or “Can you change a dollar for four quarters?”

The latter is what happened this past Sunday. Already annoyed that someone was occupying one of my regular newspaper vending machines, out popped the question. I had the quarters, but I didn’t want to spare the time, or as it turned out, the need to engage so that his needed instructions could be rendered. Although a man in his 50’s, I sensed that he might need help with the machine. He thought Sunday daily’s still cost a dollar. But I gave him change and waited while he attempted to retrieve his paper. Of course it didn’t work and he was clueless that his 8 quarters were waiting in the coin return. I coached him to try again, to examine his coins for dirty or foreign coins, and try placing them into the machine more systematically.

The instructions worked, he received his paper and then wanted to tell me a story or two. We participated in what K.M. Bennett of the U. of Liverpool (“Low Level Social Engagement as a precursor of mortality among people in later life”, Age and Ageing 2002 31: 165-168) defines as “low level social engagement.” The researcher has found in a controlled study that accounted for health, age, and gender, elderly people that withdraw from society and social engagement die earlier than their more gregarious counterparts. Thus, social engagement acted as a precursor for mortality.

Therefore, as much as I dislike early morning hellos with their implied social judgments, an added benefit of the morning walk is the opportunity for low level social engagement and the chance that the practice might possibly add a few months or years to my need for a longer healthy life.


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