**We conclude our two part series on loneliness and health with an article wherein researchers establish a link between loneliness and heart disease.**
Loneliness is bad for the heart, new research shows. According to a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists present evidence that loneliness increases cardiovascular disease mortality. These findings, along with a similar study on loneliness and cognitive decline, show that social interactions are crucial to human survival.
Dr. Deepak Bhatt from Harvard Medical and colleagues investigated the association between living alone with increased cardiovascular disease risk and mortality as part of the global REduction of Atherothrombosis for Continued Health (REACH) Registry.
The study, which began in late 2003 and concluded in 2008, included 44,573 adults aged 45 years or older with or at risk of arterial blood clots from 44 countries around the world; of this number, 8594 REACH participants reportedly lived alone.
Loneliness Can Be Fatal
Over the next four years, scientists followed the participants for cardiovascular events. During this time, 2612 cardiovascular disease deaths were reported. As the study progressed, it became increasingly obvious that age combined with living alone played a huge role in the number of people who died.
For example, Bhatt and his colleagues noted that
- participants aged 45 - 65 years were more likely to die if they lived alone rather than with other people (7.7% vs. 5.7%)
- participants aged 66- 80 years who lived alone were at greater risk of dying than those who lived with others (13.2% vs. 12.3%)
Interestingly, just the opposite was observed in people over age 80. Among participants of that advanced age, were not at higher risk of mortality compared to those who lived with other people (24.6% versus 28.4% respectively).
It's also important to point out that participants who lived alone tended to be over the age of 80, female, black or white, living in North America or Western Europe, less educated, and retired from employment.
Why Does Loneliness Kill?
Study author Bhatt pointed out that a number of studies establish a link between loneliness and stress. Isolation contributes to changes in neurohormonal-mediated responses to stress, has a tendency to influence healthy behavior, affect access to health care, and cause or contribute to cardiovascular disease.
In a nutshell, loneliness leads to a broken heart.
When people feel unwanted or unaccountable, it may seriously affect their outlook on life. People whom live alone may be less motivated to pay attention to their health, largely because they feel that nobody cares about them. (It's important to point out that hypertension, obesity and smoking were associated with living alone.)
The research team concluded that: "living alone was independently associated with an increased risk of mortality and CV death in an international cohort of stable middle-aged outpatients with or at risk of atherothrombosis. Younger individuals who live alone may have a less favorable course than all but the most elderly individuals following development of CV disease, and this observation warrants confirmation in further studies."
It really doesn't come as much of a surprise to me that younger people are so adversely affected by isolation.
People whom are 45 years old are relatively young; young people tend to be physically and socially active i.e. married, dating, belonging to social organizations. If they don't have these social contacts, they may be more susceptible to feelings of isolation.
By contrast, people over the age of 80 may be more accustomed to living alone and thus less affected by feelings of loneliness. My hypothesis is that people of such advanced years have adjusted to solitary living, and through independence have become more resilient than younger people who live alone.
For their part, Bhatt and his colleagues assert that among older persons solitary living is "potentially associated with independence and better health rather than a maladaptive environment associated with CV risk."
Nonetheless, loneliness had lethal consequences for people across all age groups in the REACH study which, to me, underscores the need for people to have wholesome i.e. healthy social interactions.
God created us to have fellowship with Him and to develop meaningul relationships with other people. Begin by accepting that God loves for you and that you matter to Him.
It's not always easy to make friends, particularly when you're shy or have been ostracized by others, but if you start out slowly you can do it. Say hello to people on the street or at the supermarket.
If someone scowls at you, don't let it set you back; just say hello to the next person. Also, consider places where you can volunteer to help others, or join a church group, book club, etc. When you allow God to work through you to help others, you'll see that He has helped you, too. When you're doing His work and feel His presence around you, you won't have time to feel lonely.
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Udell JA, Steg PG, Scirica BM, Smith SC, Ohman EM, Eagle KA, Goto S, Cho JI, Bhatt DL, & Reduction Of Atherothrombosis For Continued Health Reach Registry Investigators FT (2012). Living Alone and Cardiovascular Risk in Outpatients at Risk of or With AtherothrombosisLiving Alone and Cardiovascular Risk. Archives of internal medicine, 1-10 PMID: 22711020
"Living Alone Is A Heartbreaker" copyright 2012 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.