Frank Salvatore
Health and Lifestyle

Effects of Loneliness on Physical Health

October 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 


You may think that loneliness only affects your mental state, but it can also lead to other health problems as well. Research actually shows that feeling lonely can increase your blood pressure up to 14 points, and even more as the length of time you are lonely increases. Additionally, your risk for heart disease and dementia increase as well.

Researchers have recently concluded that social isolation may be even more unhealthy than obesity and smoking. Research also shows that the brain-related changes that are associated with feelings of loneliness as soon as 24 hours of isolation have passed.

Negative emotions have an effect on your physical well-being, and loneliness is the same. According to studies, loneliness and social isolation, which are not quite the same thing, are more threatening to public health than obesity and raises your risk of premature death by up to 50%.

Loneliness and social isolation are a bit different from each other because social isolation describes a lack of contact with other people, while loneliness is only the feeling that one has no emotional connections to other people.

So, someone can be around other people and still be lonely, but they will not be socially isolated. According to one poll, around 72% of people reported having felt lonely during their lifetime, and Of these adults, about 31% reported that they feel lonely at least once a week.

Studies have also found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 50%. Another study found social isolation, loneliness, and living alone increased the risk of mortality at an early age 29%, 26%, and 32% respectively.

This is similar to the risk of premature death that is associated with physical health problems such as obesity and even smoking. Loneliness plays a role in several chronic health conditions, such as pain, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and depression. Loneliness has even been linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Studies also show that lonely people also experience:

  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Poor immunity

Epidemic of Loneliness and Social Isolation

Over 42 million Americans over the age of 45 claim to suffer from chronic loneliness, with over 25% of the U.S. population live alone. Here are some possible reasons that loneliness is becoming increasingly common:

  • Long work hours
  • Diminished face-to-face interaction because of social media
  • Travel to and from work
  • Not being around family
  • Choosing not to marry

Loneliness is an epidemic that people can’t see because many people have an online persona that is not actually representative of the person’s real emotions. Patients should know how their emotions have a direct effect on their body. Having direct communication in person is so important for both emotional and mental health. Having meaningful human interactions will make people happier and healthier.

With a growing population of seniors in our society, we need to find solutions for loneliness for individuals and our society. In order to do this, we need to increase social skills training for children, and train doctors to screen patients for social connectedness. Seniors should also prepare for the social implications that accompany retirement because many adults keep their social circles at work.

The Mind-Body Connection

Your mindset can either enhance or undermine your physical and mental health. This is partially due to environmental factors like stress and diet and the expression of your genes that dictates if you are likely to develop specific diseases or age prematurely.

Your epigenome is influenced by both physical and emotional stressors, so, if you are chronically lonely, this negative emotion influences the expression of your genes and can, therefore, impact your risk of developing a specific disease.

Strategies to Address Loneliness

A lot of people suffer from loneliness, but many do not know how to address it. Here are a few suggestions and strategies that can help address loneliness:

1. Join a club

This will help you meet like-minded people. You will be able to have face-to-face contact with people who share your interests and have something in common with you.

2. Learn a new skill

Take a class so you can meet some new people or take up a new skill to start branching out and meeting people who have various hobbies.

3. Create rituals of connection

Start a weekly talk session with your friends or make a meal each week with someone in your family to connect with them.

4. Consider a digital cleanse

If you spend all of your time on social media, you are likely not spending too much time in the presence of other people. Stop having all of your communication through Facebook and call up a friend to get together.

5. Make good use of digital media

Text a friend some encouraging messages if you think they are struggling with loneliness. Offer them some support and help them live a healthier life and make healthy lifestyle changes.

6. Exercise with others

This will help improve your help in several ways. You will be able to get physical activity while also having social interaction.

7. Shop local

If you shop locally, you are likely to run into the same people on a regular basis. Shop at local coffee stores or markets near your house and make friends with the people there.

8. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to increase your social interactions and develop new relationships.

9. Adopt a companion pet

Owning a pet will provide you with companionship. It will also give you an opportunity to get outside and walk them and run into other pet owners. Studies have shown that owning a pet has benefits to both physical and mental health. Pets can help boost self-esteem, promote communication, help you cope with illness and depression, reduce stress, provide a source of trust.

10. Move and/or change jobs

Think about your current environment and culture and consider if it needs a change. If so, think about where you would rather live or work to make yourself less lonely.

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Frank Salvatore