There are so many factors that affect our health – and these effects can be both beneficial and detrimental – that it is difficult to say which ones are major contributors, and which ones are not that significant. In a new research, scientists revealed that smoking can be less evil than being lonely – even if you smoke more than a dozen a day.
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Several studies conducted in the recent years found that social isolation is a far more dangerous thing than many of us think. According to them, loneliness is just as bad for health – both mental and physical – as obesity, smoking and other major risk factors.
A fresh look at previous studies
A team of scientists from Brigham Young University analyzed the data acquired in the course of a variety of researches into living alone, loneliness, and social isolation. The total amount of study participants made up more than 3 million people.
They compared the risk of premature death in those who had a lot of social connections and those who had almost none. They found an association: being lonely made people more likely to die prematurely, whereas engaging in social activities resulted in a longer lifespan. It is worthy of note that the negative effect was true of both those who were alone because they wanted it, and those who were surrounded by other people but felt alone.
The researchers took into account such factors as gender, age, health problems, and socioeconomic status. Social isolation turned out to be associated with even greater risks to health than smoking fifteen cigarettes per day, being obese, and being an alcoholic.
All these findings call for more public attention to the issue, as loneliness is seldom addressed as a serious problem. Most of us believe that eating healthy foods and exercising is enough, but it appears that human beings benefit from communicating and interacting with each other to a significant extent. Texting and other means of virtual communication do not count: the Internet seems to be one of the culprits, and seeing each other on the screen instead of looking into each other’s eyes appears to have a detrimental, if not devastating, effect on our health.
Seniors at risk
One of the most vulnerable groups that are prone to loneliness-induced stress and other health problems are seniors. This issue is a difficult one to tackle, as many people aged 70 or older suffer from diseases that may require supervision and assistance. That being said, the elderly may find it frustrating to realize they cannot be independent anymore. At the same time, some of them really need help, and balancing their wish to live alone with preventing them from falling victim to social isolation is definitely a challenge.
One of the solutions that are backed by scientific evidence is having a pet. Seniors can also have a senior pet, which could be a better match, as preferences of older people and older pets often coincide.
For all lonely people, regardless of age, taking up a hobby can be a way out, as many hobbies involve social interaction, be it jogging, painting in parks, attending lectures (why not learning how to cook perfect eggs and bacon?), etc.
Many Western societies are disintegrated, including Americans, as we tend to be afraid of other people’s actions and consider every glance or touch to be harassment. Family ties are not as strong as they used to be, and engaging more in social activities can be beneficial for all aspects of a human being – the body, the mind and the soul.
Prescription for living longer: Spend less time alone – News.byu.edu