Stay Connected, Live Longer
By now it’s well documented that being obese is a risk factor for any number of bad health outcomes. Obesity is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, for example. It’s also linked to a greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, and other serious health conditions. If you want to live longer, maintaining a healthy body weight is one way to influence your chances of living into ripe old age.
But new research suggests you might want to stay socially connected, too. That’s because loneliness is just as big a risk factor for early death as being obese, according to researchers at Brigham Young University, in Utah. Evidently, being socially isolated is just as bad for your long-term health as lugging around excess body weight.
Although one might assume this is a problem primarily among the elderly, it’s actually even riskier for younger people. People younger than 65 years of age who were socially isolated and lonely were more likely to die of any causes than similarly-aged people who had plenty of other people in their lives. “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.”
The investigators expressed concern, because rates of living alone—and in isolation—are at historic highs. “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,” said Tim Smith, co-author of the study. “With loneliness on the rise, we are predicting a possible loneliness epidemic in the future.”
Not only is loneliness bad for a person, but the reverse is also true. Having plenty of social relationships is linked to positive health outcomes. Remarkably, the research team has previously estimated that loneliness is about as big a health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or being an alcoholic. Now, you can add obesity to the list of things that are as bad for your health as loneliness. In fact, say researchers, loneliness may even be worse.
“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. Which gives new meaning to the old advertising slogan: “Reach out and touch someone.” It just might help prolong your life.
Brigham YounG University. News. Release. Accessed Mar. 12, 2015 from: http://news.byu.edu/archive15-mar-loneliness.aspx