Many people naturally seek out alone time once in a while, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, periods of solitude can be very healthy. We all need to clear our minds and spend some quality time with ourselves sometimes. However, loneliness and chronic social isolation are a different story.
People are social creatures, and as such, we need other people to thrive. The “no man is an island” saying came about for a reason. In life, we need positive, nurturing relationships — whether a little or a lot, we all need them.
A new study, recently published in the journal Heart found that loneliness and social isolation may be quite dangerous to a person’s physical health. The study linked these two factors to a significantly higher risk of both heart attack and stroke.
Study author Nicole Valtorta, a health sciences research fellow at the University of New York, explained: “We take risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity for granted, whereas we do not yet with social isolation and loneliness. The data from our study support us taking it seriously.”
To arrive at their data, the researchers analyzed 23 previous studies, which examined the data of over 180,000 adults. Over 3,000 of the individuals studied had undergone strokes, and over 4,600 had experienced either a heart attack or angina, or had passed away.
Results of the analysis correlated loneliness and social isolation with a 29 percent higher risk of a heart attack or angina attack, and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke.
On these results, the study authors wrote: “Our findings suggest that deficiencies in social relationships are associated with an increased risk of developing CHD [coronary heart disease] and stroke. Future studies are needed to investigate whether interventions targeting loneliness and social isolation can help to prevent two of the leading causes of death and disability in high-income countries.”
While the study did not prove that loneliness and isolation caused the heart attacks and stroke in the studied individuals, an association was revealed. Valorta stated: “We know from other studies … that people who are lonely or isolated are less likely to recover [from illness]. From our study, we are saying it is not just about people who are already sick, but prior to that they might be at risk of developing disease.”
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of neuroscience and psychology at Brigham Young University, further commented: “[Loneliness] can raise blood pressure and increase inflammation. These can subsequently increase risk for atherosclerosis and a heart attack.”
Making and nurturing social connections
From this research, we can gather that it’s probably quite beneficial to our health to not let ourselves become “islands.” No one is saying that alone time is bad, but make it a point to see the people you care about on a regular basis to keep those relationships strong.
If you don’t live close to friends, you can still get out and socialize in many ways. Join a club, take lessons in your favorite creative activity (drawing, painting, quilting, music, etc.), or take a yoga or kickboxing class (bonus: you’ll be socializing and getting fit).
If the activity you want to do doesn’t exist in your community, start it up! The results are bound to be rewarding — mentally and physically.
Tanya is a writer at The Alternative Daily with a passion for meditation, music, poetry, and overall creative and active living. She has a special interest in exploring traditional Eastern remedies and superfoods from around the globe, and enjoys spending time immersed in nature.