No one wants to feel lonely. Sometimes, however, the feeling is impossible to avoid. Though loneliness is manageable in small doses, long-term, it can feel like a death sentence. This is a curious comparison, as a new study actually suggests being lonely is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Before the late MP Jo Cox was found murdered last year, she called on the government to do more to tackle loneliness — not just among the elderly, but the young and those in between. Now that the report is completed, the effects of loneliness are being highlighted in the UK — and they are worth paying attention to.
To begin with, it was discovered that a staggering 9 million people in the UK suffer from loneliness. Furthermore, social isolation is having a tangible physical impact on them. Not only does being cut off from the outside world make people more prone to depression, it can also be an indication of suicide in older age. Additionally, the lack of mental stimulation that accompanies social interaction can increase a person’s chances (by 64 percent) of developing dementia later on in life.
From a physical perspective, loneliness can increase the risk of mortality by 26 percent. It can also raise the risk of developing high blood pressure and obesity — two of the most common conditions in first-world nations. Finally, as mentioned above, being lonely has been proven to be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
“Tackling loneliness is a generational challenge that can only be met by concerted action by everyone – governments, employers, businesses, civil society organisations, families, communities and individuals all have a role to play,” the report says. “Working together we can make a difference.”
This isn’t the first research to suggest that social connections are essential for a long, happy life. In his book “Healthy at 100,” John Robbins explains that some of the longest-lived cultures — including the Abkhazians, the Vilcabambans, and the Hunzas — prioritize community and family relations.
Robbins explained that it is not just one’s lifespan that is important, but their “health span.” Based on his research, there are tremendous life-giving and even miraculous healing powers of strong social connections and “intimate relationships that are authentic and life-affirming.”
“…chronic loneliness now ranks as one of the most lethal risk factors determining who will die prematurely in modern industrialized nations.” On the other hand, love of a significant other greatly increases one’s ability to prevent stress-induced illnesses. The author found it intriguing that “those with close social ties and unhealthy lifestyles (featuring smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthy living habits.”
Clearly, healthy social bonds are more important than most people think. Hopefully, this latest research inspires people to seek community and lasting friendships. What are your thoughts? Please comment below and share this news!