The Need for Human Interaction Transcends Age

May 23, 2024, Department, by Vitisia "Vi" Paynich

Vi Paynich 410

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Yoshiko Tanaka Miwa was barely 4 years old living with her family in a small town in California when the 1918 influenza pandemic infected nearly 33 percent of the global population. By the time the coronavirus (COVID-19) spiraled into a full-fledged global health crisis in March 2020, Miwa was well into her centenarian years.

As a second-generation Japanese American who has overcome her share of adversity and struggles throughout the decades, including losing her mother at an early age, being sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War II and surviving two worldwide pandemics, Miwa finds resolve and perseverance in gaman — a Japanese term meaning “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity,” according to her son, Alan Miwa, in an interview with

On February 28, 2024, Miwa’s family and friends celebrated her 110th birthday. What’s her secret to a long life? She maintains strong connections to her family, friends and church — along with an active lifestyle. In fact, when “…Miwa retired, she’d walk four miles each morning,” according to These days, however, she prefers reading, flower arranging, sewing and engaging in Japanese ink art, called sumi-e.

“I’ve been fortunate that my sons, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren and relatives have always been there for me,” she told the news outlet. Miwa’s lived experiences confirm what park and recreation professionals learned from the COVID-19 pandemic: human interaction is critical to our overall mental health and well-being no matter your age. What’s more, cultivating and encouraging intergenerational connections through recreation programming can help to minimize social isolation and loneliness, especially among those who don’t have family.

Authors Nancy Baum and Samantha Ochoa support this notion in the article, “From Gen Alpha to the Greatest Generation,” on page 38. As they point out, “…intergenerational programming has helped to bridge a social gap and provide extremely positive benefits to all participants involved. From tutoring students in schools to assisting with job readiness, creating cultural awareness and connection, and, most importantly, finding common ground in personal experiences, intergenerational programs are making headway in communities across the United States.”

Furthermore, park and recreation professionals are well-positioned to lead the way in combatting isolation and loneliness by closing generational gaps and fostering social connections that could result in healthier outcomes for all.

Vitisia “Vi” Paynich is Executive Editor and Director of Print and Online Content at NRPA.