Facts & Discoveries

Loneliness & Isolation Is A Bigger Killer Than Diabetes & Smoking

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Most of us will go through periods when we feel a little lonely every now and again, such as when loved ones go out of the town for a few weeks, or the kids leave the nest. For many people going through this phase, the feelings will pass quite quickly, as they find other social activities to fill the gap. Unfortunately, there is a growing portion of the population for which loneliness is an ongoing condition, and social isolation becomes their normal state of existence with no relief in sight. Humans are social animals, and without social interaction, the chance of an early grave can become that much higher.

While alcoholism and diabetes receive a lot of press, new studies are revealing an alarming statistic about the havoc loneliness is having on the death toll. According to these studies, loneliness is a disease that may even be able to topple diabetes as a leading cause of death in many countries, as the research indicated that social isolation is twice as bad as diabetes.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad, of Brigham Young University, is championing the cause to shed more light on the growing health problem of loneliness and social isolation. Her research indicates that having the support of close friends and family throughout your life makes it 50 percent more likely that you will live to a ripe old age. The analysis of the data even goes so far as to suggest that social isolation is much worse for your health than smoking cigarettes.

Part of the reason being socially active is so healthy for us is that it makes us feel responsible for others and as a result, we tend to take fewer risks, and spend a little more time looking after ourselves. There has also been research before Dr. Julianne Holt-Lundstad’s study, which indicates a shorter lifespan for those who never marry as opposed to those who do, or even those who marry and get divorced. A study of 67,000 Americans showed that bachelors aged between 19 and 44 were more likely to die in any given year than their married counterparts. The effects of loneliness aren’t just evident in the aged population, as the results suggested an improvement in life expectancy for every age. There were also no apparent discrepancies between genders, the current state of health, and cause of death for the subjects making up the study.

How to Avoid Being Lonely

There’s currently an epidemic going on, and it’s destroying the health of people all over the world. The blame can be spread over many factors, but in the western world, a significant portion can be laid at the feet of a society that embraces self-reliance, while rejecting all forms of dependency, or even admitting to the fact that you may be lonely.

The most prominent risk factors for loneliness include rural or living in an otherwise inaccessible area, transportation challenges, mobility problems, living alone, language barriers, gender or racial identity barriers, and caregivers caring for someone with a serious condition. We have become a closed society. Most of us don’t even know our neighbor’s names and the popularity of church groups, political groups, and other community organizations have been in decline for years. Maybe it’s because we live in a connected world, and there’s not as much reason to go out into it in person when you can do so much of what you need to do online.

Interacting with others through a computer screen, however, is no substitute for face to face meetings or social gatherings. Our mental faculties just don’t receive the same benefit from online interactions, which should not be a modern substitute for being physically present. If you want to avoid the health issues caused by loneliness and social isolation, then it is important you make room for social gatherings and face to face meetings of friends and family. Turn off the computer and step outside. Find a few clubs devoted to areas you are interested in such as a hobby club, a sports club, or a service club providing various community services for which you can get involved.

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Anybody who is at high risk of social isolation needs to emphasize strengthening currently existing relationships through simple things like having a cup of coffee or going to a movie together. Even scheduling a phone call on a daily or weekly basis can help reduce feelings of isolation. As we get older it’s important we keep our brains active and don’t let ourselves fall into a state of social isolation. You can combat both conditions by joining a class to learn about something you have never done before.

Keeping physically active is also important for good health, and there are many ways you can keep your body fit while enjoying some social interaction as well. Join an aerobics class or a sports gym with a friend, or talk to people when you are there, so you make some new ones. Volunteering your services can bring about a sense of worth and purpose while you give a little back to the community, and get to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals. If you are feeling isolated and lonely, don’t adopt society’s attitude of being staunch and tough about it. Reach out and reconnect with friends and family. If that’s not always possible head on down to your community center to find new opportunities for social engagement, meet new people, and make some new friends. If you take a look around your community, you will find there are heaps of opportunities for you to get involved in activities you enjoy doing, with people you like.