Protect Your Health: Is Loneliness Deadlier than Obesity?
Evolving research suggests loneliness is an overlooked issue and may just be deadlier than obesity... But what is social isolation and how can you protect your health from the deadly dangers of loneliness?
When it comes to the current condition of the U.S., health experts tend to encourage diet and exercise to mitigate the rising obesity rates. But as the focus positions on the obesity epidemic, we may be turning our heads and dropping the ball on another health crisis.
How Social Isolation Impacts Health
Social isolation is essentially an emotional and a physical state in which an individual loses communication with others, mostly sparking feelings of loneliness, depression, and other negative emotions. Despite the complexity and challenges of social isolation and loneliness, the concerning numbers are nonetheless there. Based on the Campaign to End Loneliness, 17 percent of older people are in contact with family, friends and neighbors less than once a week and 11 percent are in contact less than once a month. Additionally, 59 percent of adults aged 52 or older who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21 percent who say they are in excellent health. Loneliness increases the likelihood of cognitive decline, depression, hypertension, and even mortality. In fact, research shows lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity!
Presented evidence by the American Psychological Association further suggests loneliness is deadlier than obesity. The data revealed lonely people had a 50 percent increased risk of death compared to individuals with positive social connections, while obesity raised mortality risk by 30 percent before the age of 70. Whereas obesity is a risk factor for stroke and heart disease, people who are lonely frequently have high blood pressure, subsequently increasing the risk of a stroke or dementia. Turning the table slightly, people who maintain social and emotional bonds are more likely to live healthier and happier lives, thus reducing the risk of both obesity and loneliness.
How to Decrease Loneliness for Healthy Outcomes
With such compelling evidence connecting social isolation and loneliness with premature mortality, there is an emerging need to bring public awareness to this "loneliness epidemic." As health experts strategize and implement techniques to detour loneliness and mortality risk, individuals are encouraged to:
Being alone is not synonymous to being lonely, as there is simply nothing wrong to act independently while simultaneous experiencing happiness and comfort. But even in the presence of people, people who feel lonely tend to feel misunderstand and potentially uncared for.
Talk About It
Remember, you do not have to go through this thing called life alone. Talking about these feelings with others can nurture more intimate bonds and allow others to gain a better understanding and perspective of who you are. There are also numerous resources and organizations to help link you to valuable social connections.
Take It Slow
Rather than jumping right into a social gathering, allow yourself to take it slow. Swimming out of comfort zones can be difficult, so dip toes in an online community to ease into the water, along with volunteering at local food banks or participating in a new class or group as confidence starts to emerge.
Consider and Care for Other Feelings
Beyond loneliness itself, check and consider other feelings, including tiredness and stress. Accumulating negative emotions can synergize feelings of loneliness, so take care of concurring feelings by sleeping the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, managing stress, and other appropriate measures.
Relish in Established Connections
Whether it be with a family member or a friend you may have lost touched with over the years, relish in these already established connections. For instance, ask family over for dinner at least once a week or simply call a friend just to chat.
Be proactive and make plans with others to lessen occurrences of loneliness. Additionally, be sure to establish plans on special occasions to ensure you will be in the presence of loved ones, including on Christmas and birthdays.
Flourish in Your Purpose
People who feel lonely are likely to have a distorted perception on their self-worth. Individuals can reestablish their sense of purpose by gearing back into or exploring new hobbies and volunteer work and rekindling relationships with friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members. Acquiring and committing to a pet can also reduce feelings of isolation and depression and increase feelings of motivation.