Loneliness and longevity

Ask people what it takes to live a long life, and they’ll say things like eat healthily and exercise. However, new research has found that loneliness and social isolation are just as much a threat to longevity as obesity.

“The effect of this is comparable to obesity, something that public health takes very seriously,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the lead study author. “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”

The difference between loneliness and social isolation

Loneliness and social isolation can look very different. For example, someone may be surrounded by many people but still feel alone. Other people may isolate themselves because they prefer to be alone. The effect on longevity, however, is much the same for those two scenarios.

Loneliness is on the rise

Although older people are more likely to be lonely and face a higher mortality risk, loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death among populations younger than 65 years.

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“Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet,” said Tim Smith, co-author of the study. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”

Socialising and staying connected online

With the evolution of the internet, people can keep in contact more than ever before. However, the superficiality of some online experiences may miss emotional depth. In addition, too much texting with each other can actually hurt a romantic relationship. The authors of that texting study note, however, that saying something sweet or kind in a text is universally beneficial.

More than three million people studied

The study analysed data on loneliness, social isolation, and living alone from a variety of health studies which, altogether, included more than three million people. They found that the lack of social connections presents an added risk, and the existence of relationships provides a positive health effect.

Previous research from Holt-Lunstad and Smith puts the increased risk of mortality from loneliness in the same category as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic! The current study suggests that, not only is the risk for mortality in the same category as these well-known risk factors, it also surpasses health risks associated with obesity.

“In essence, the study is saying that the more positive psychology we have in our world, the better we’re able to function not just emotionally but physically,” Smith said.

Source: Brigham Young University via Sciencedaily

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