Loneliness Can Actually Be Bad For Your Health
The Debrief: Your mates aren't just there to give you a few laughs. They might actually be keeping you healthy, too.
If the festive season does anything more than give you a perpetual red-face (that’ll be the alcohol) and very trouser-tight (the mince pies), it highlights that, actually, a lot of us are pretty damn lonely.
But loneliness most certainly isn’t a seasonal issue. Neither are feelings of isolation reserved for the older generation. Because despite the feeling of being connected to others 24/7, a 2014 study found that three out of 10 18-24 year olds experience loneliness at least ‘some of the time’.
Now, in a new study published yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the real effects of relationships on our health have been established. For the first time, social relationships have been definitively linked with physical wellbeing.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that having good social networks is extremely important to health, with the effects fluctuating through different stages of life. ‘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,’ explained researcher Dr Kathleen Mullan Harris.
For example, good social integration during adolescence reduces abdominal obesity with BMI and waist circumference lower than those who were more isolated. Harris went on to say that, ‘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.’
As well as this, social isolation in older age was found to be more harmful to health, in terms of developing and controlling hypertension, than diabetes.
In other words: the absence of strong social networks can not only damage your mental well being, it can be detrimental to your physical health.
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