Loneliness is as deadly as lack of exercise
Poor social network ‘drastically increases risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer’
Feeling lonely can ‘vastly elevate’ a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, scientists warn.
Lacking a network of friends or family is as dangerous to your health as a lack of physical inactivity in youth or diabetes in old age, their research found.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists from the University of North Carolina, United States (US) examined the association between relationships and healthiness across each life stage.
They determined that weak relationships in younger years can increase your risk of inflammation – at the same rate as lack of exercise.
Furthermore, hypertension in old age is more likely to occur as a result of loneliness than clinical risk factors, including diabetes.
Yet, people who have the support of loved ones are less likely to develop health conditions – and more likely to have a longer life expectancy.
Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris, of UNC and the Carolina Population Center, said: “Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active.”
Previous studies found that aging adults live longer if they have more social connections.
The new study builds on that research – demonstrating how social relationships reduce the risk of poor health at each stage of life.
The size of a person’s social network is important for health in early and late adulthood.
Social integration in adolescence was found to protect against abdominal obesity.
Researchers found body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference were higher among those with lower levels of social integration during adolescence.
And, in old age, social isolation can exacerbate a host of health problems, they said.
But, in middle adulthood, the number of social connections do not appear to matter as much as the level of support or strain they provide.
Harris said: “The relationship between health and the degree to which people are integrated in large social networks is strongest at the beginning and at the end of life, and not so important in middle adulthood, when the quality, not the quantity, of social relationships matters.”
The scientists assessed data from four surveys of the US population that, collectively, covered the lifespan from adolescence to old age.