How Loneliness Hurts Your Heart

lonely senior womanLoneliness and social isolation may increase your risk of heart disease.

This is according to a meta-analysis published in the journal Heart that investigated the links between loneliness and heart disease. Researchers examined data from 181,000 patients and found that those who were lonely or isolated had a 29% greater risk of heart attack and chest pain and a 32% greater risk of stroke when compared to those who were not. The different studies included in the meta-analysis measured loneliness, social isolation, or a combination of both, using interviews and self-reported questionnaires.

The Effects of Loneliness and Social Isolation on Heart Disease

Researchers found that the effects of loneliness and social isolation on heart disease were comparable to other known risk factors such as anxiety, stress, depression and smoking. However, the mechanisms by which loneliness and social isolation lead to increased risk of heart disease remain unclear. One reason may be that these feelings contribute to poor lifestyle decisions like an unhealthy diet, little exercise, smoking and drinking. Another possibility is that loneliness and social isolation increase stress levels, which have been shown to have a physiological effect on the heart over time.

These findings add to the growing body of literature about the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation. Researchers emphasize the need to view such feelings as a public health issue, including the importance of identifying people who may be lonely or isolated and creating interventions to help them.

If you suffer from loneliness or social isolation, or if you know someone who does, these feelings can have important health consequences including impaired function of the immune system, high blood pressure and premature death.

Here are some tips for combating loneliness and improving social relationships:

  • Participate in community activities by taking a class or volunteering
  • Find a friend to walk with or talk by phone
  • Stay active
  • Learn about community resources that might be available to you, including group counseling or individual therapy
  • Incorporate heart-healthy lifestyle changes like eating right and exercising

We often talk about heart health in terms of what individuals can do. But, as this research shows, we also need each other.

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