Social Isolation and Loneliness Shortens Life

 

 

Loneliness Shortens Life

 

 

 

Want to live longer? Avoid being by yourself, at least according to a new study. Here researchers found that social isolation and loneliness shortens life as much 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.

Social Isolation and Loneliness Shortens Life

In the study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science conducted at Brigham Young University, researchers found that the effect on longevity could be found in both people willfully isolating themselves from other people as well as in those who simply feel lonely.

The study isolated data from a variety of health studies including more than three million people from all around the world. Researchers controlled for variables like socioeconomic status, age, gender and health condition in order to confirm that the effect seen was due to social isolation and loneliness.

They found that lack of social interaction increased the risk of dying prematurely. This effect wasn’t only seen in older people, as you might expect, the data was actually more accurate in predicting the death of people younger than 65 years old. On average the three factors determining how lonely a person were (social isolation/living alone/loneliness) increased the risk of dying prematurely by about 30%.

Previous studies, from the same researchers, found that loneliness increases the risk of dying to the same extent as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic, two extreme risk factors of death. In this study researchers found that loneliness is even worse than another risk factor, obesity.

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

There are many ways to combat the effects of loneliness, especially today. The internet is an excellent tool in keeping in touch with friends and family, as well as in getting to know new people with similar interests. The authors do however caution that some of these connections might lack emotional depth.

Image credit: Gwenael Piaser via flickr.com, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0