Why Loneliness is Bad for Your Health (part 2)

by Farzana Rahman

We’ve already talked about loneliness in a previous post and the fascinating study which looked at the impact of community on health.

In this article, we’re going to look at some more studies that have focused on  the impact of loneliness on our health.


What is loneliness

Loneliness is defined as feeling remote or isolated. Many people who feel this way are often surrounded by other people, yet they feel disconnected.  It can be associated with feelings of shame, amplified through the effects of social media. 

The Loneliness Epidemic

A recent study of 20,00 adults by the health insurer Cigna [1] found nearly half of Americans reported that they felt alone or isolated.  Around half of those surveyed felt they lacked meaningful in-person social interactions.

We often think that loneliness is a problem for older people. Whilst this is true, this study was particularly interesting as it showed that the lonelinest group were actually younger adults aged between 18-23. The same group also reported being in worse health than older generations.


Loneliness Leads to More Visits to the Doctor

Another study [2] looked at the impact of loneliness on people over the age of 60. The researchers looked at data about the population over five years.  They found that nearly half of the population reported loneliness.

Interestingly, they found that people who were chronically lonely actually ended up visiting the doctor more often. The researchers concluded that loneliness is a significant public health concern and projects aimed at reducing loneliness might actually lower healthcare costs.


Loneliness Leads to An Earlier Death

A study of 3000 senior citizens by a group in Harvard[3] found that those who had an active social life actually outlived those who were less social by 2.5 years. Activities such as regularly seeing friends and family,  engaging in group activities or going away on vacation seemed to have a positive effect on longevity.


Loneliness Can Worsen Heart Conditions

A Swedish study[4] looked at the impact of loneliness on heart disease.

They looked at 741 men with known heart disease over a 15 year period. They found that those with a strong social network were less likely to have a new heart attack.

Another study looked at patients who had heart surgery and the impact of loneliness on their outcomes. They found that patients who identified as feeling lonely were more likely to die after their operation.


Loneliness Can Worsen Cancer Outcomes

A study by a group at the University of California[5] looked at the impact of loneliness on women (nurses) who had a diagnois of breat cancner. They found that women who went through cancer alone were four times more likely to die from their disease than those with ten or more friends supporting their journey.


So What Now ?

So where does this leave us ?

It shows us that building and fostering a supportive community is an intrinsic part of staying healthy. Time spent on this isn’t wasted but an investment in our health. The key lies in understanding which relationships nurture and to focus our time and effort in these.

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[1] https://www.cigna.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/new-cigna-study-reveals-loneliness-at-epidemic-levels-in-america

[2] Gerst-Emerson K, Jayawardhana J. Loneliness as a public health issue: the impact of loneliness on health care utilization among older adults. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(5):1013-9.

[3] House, James S., Cynthia Robbins, and Helen L. Metzner. "The association of social relationships and activities with mortality: prospective evidence from the Tecumseh Community Health Study." American journal of epidemiology 116.1 (1982): 123-140.

[4] Rosengren, Annika, et al. "Stressful life events, social support, and mortality in men born in 1933." Bmj 307.6912 (1993): 1102-1105.

[5] Kroenke, Candyce H., et al. "Social networks, social support, and survival after breast cancer diagnosis." Journal of clinical oncology 24.7 (2006): 1105-1111.