For years, researchers have confirmed the negative health effects of loneliness. Social isolation raises the risk of depression, heart disease, high blood pressure and a host of other health conditions that decrease both the length and the quality of our lives. University of Chicago’s Dr. John Cacioppo even says, “Chronic loneliness belongs among other health risk factors such as smoking, obesity or a lack of exercise.”
Recently, researchers from Brigham Young University confirmed the damage caused by social isolation, and added a few new interesting pieces to the puzzle. For example, the team, headed by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, found that spending a lot of time by yourself can hurt you even if you are something of a loner. The authors found that whether a person feels “lonely in a crowd” or opts to spend lots of time in solitary pursuits, “the effect on longevity is much the same.” It’s worth the effort to spend more time with other people even if you’re not a social butterfly by nature.
They also found that while seniors are at a higher risk of social isolation due to health challenges and changed circumstances, younger people today also face loneliness. Said study co-author Tim Smith, “Not only are we at the highest recorded rate of living alone across the entire century, but we’re at the highest recorded rates ever on the planet. With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”
What about electronic socialization? The researchers say it’s a mixed bag: “With the evolution of the Internet, people can keep in contact over distances that they couldn’t before. However, the superficiality of some online experiences may miss emotional context and depth.”
The overall good news is that while a lack of social connections can harm our health, having good-quality relationships can be a health plus. “The effect goes both ways,” according to Holt-Lunstad and her team.
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from Brigham Young University appearing in Perspectives on Psychological Science.