Too few people realise this health issue is as bad as smoking

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  • Research reveals a surprising cause of high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and inflammation
  • And yet too many people – including doctors – aren’t aware… 
  • What you can do to protect yourself from loneliness

Really odd question but…

How many friends do you have?

I’m talking about close friends, the sort you might confide in about a personal problem.

There was a study about this topic in 1985, when subjects were asked:

“Over the last six months, who are the people with whom you discussed matters important to you?”

Most of the respondents (59%) listed about 3 or more close friends.

In 2004 the very same survey was carried out. This time only 37% of people said they’d confided in three or more friends.

Quite a drop.

Worse still, in 1985, 10% of the subjects said they had absolutely ZERO friends they could confide in…

But in 2005 that figure had soared to 25%.

We’re more than ten years on from that study and I’ve absolutely no doubt that this lonely trend has continued.

Sure, we have social media now and many of us can list dozens of ‘friends’, if not hundreds. It’s easy to be in electronic contact with other humans… but harder and harder to make relationships.

This is now a serious health issue.

The dangers of loneliness

According 2010 study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, entitled ‘Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review’ the effect of loneliness on your health has the same risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

She quotes a previous study by House, Landis, and Umberson in Science (1988) which says a lack of social relationships “rival the effect of well-established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical activity.”

Loneliness is seriously unhealthy. It increases your mortality risk by 26%.

But on the other hand, having close friends can actually help you recover from illness faster.

I know I’m throwing a load of statistics at you here, but there’s a reason for this.

To be honest, I’m sceptical about a lot of ‘self help’ stuff that waffles on about friendships, honesty and trust without ever showing the science behind it.

I know that some people dismiss any mental factors behind their illnesses because they assume that this “mind over matter” stuff is flaky nonsense.

But when it comes to friendship and loneliness, compelling scientific studies all point to the same conclusion.

Your mind matters.

For instance, a recent study in 2016 (British Medical Journal) shows that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke.

Another from 2010 shows a link to high blood pressure. While other research from 2011 shows that loneliness raises your risk of cognitive decline are raises your chanced of developing clinical dementia by 64%.

Shocking stuff isn’t it?

And there’s more…

In 2006, a study found that women with breast cancer with very friends or family were five times more likely to die than women with a strong social network.

Why should this be?

Our old enemy…. INFLAMMATION

When it comes to the link between loneliness and poor health, the finger of science is pointing firmly towards inflammation.

Not the inflammation you get when you sprain your knee or hit your thumb with a hammer. That’s the good, temporary kind that your body needs in order to heal.

I’m talking about the inflammation that can occur constantly and chronically in the body. In these instances your body literally attacks itself, damaging your organs and tissues over time.

Last year I showed you this webpage

about inflammation by Dr. Richard Couey. He believes it is behind so many of the problems we get as we age.

He quotes from an article in ‘Time’ magazine.

“Chronic inflammation may be the engine that drives many of the most feared illnesses of middle and old age… Instead of different treatments for say, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and colon cancer, there might be a single, inflammation-reducing remedy that would prevent all three.”

(For more information go and take a look at this: Special Inflammation Report.)

And one of the causes of this inflammation.

Well, psychologists at University of Chicago and Ohio State University have shown that lonely people release more cortisol.

This is a stress hormone that should only surge through our bodies when we’re in sudden danger. But for many unhappy people it is kept flowing around the body, day in day out.  This causes the levels of chronic inflammation that lead to higher risks of disease.

The cost of loneliness

So here we have a potentially huge factor behind stroke, heart disease, cognitive decline and poor rates of recovery from illness….

Yet loneliness and undiagnosed mental health issues are not taken seriously enough by the medical establishment.

This has costly results.

According to 2006 research, lonely individuals are more likely to:

  • Go to their GP
  • Use more medication,
  • Require more long term care.

Going back to Juliann Holt-Lunstad, the author of Social Relationships and Mortality Risk, who I mentioned earlier. In her study she concludes:

“Physicians, health professionals, educators, and the public media take risk factors such as smoking, diet, and exercise seriously….but the data presented here make a compelling case for social relationship factors to be added to that list.”

She suggests that:

  • Medical evaluations could include talk about social wellbeing
  • Doctors could promote socialisation and catching up with old friends as a means of keeping patients healthy

She also says:

“Social relationship–based interventions represent a major opportunity to enhance not only the quality of life but also survival.”

In other words, addressing issues of loneliness and solving them will lengthen your life, yes, but more importantly it will make your life more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Best of all, it doesn’t require drugs, surgery, physical fitness or dramatic lifestyle changes.

What it does need is positive action, though.

Even if you have lots of friends right now, you need to keep up with them, stay in contact and maintain that closeness. Catch up with an old friend you’ve not spoken to for a while. Rekindle that flame.

It’s a small effort with incredible rewards.

And if you do feel your social circle dwindling as you get older, then make new friends:

  • Introduce yourself to your neighbours
  • Try and meet up with someone in your social media network instead of just messaging them or “liking” their posts
  • Join a local community group or club.
  • Open up about your personal feelings to someone who you’re friendly with
  • If you’re single, try dating!

Just remember, happiness is good for your health.

For more information, check out my post 8 Ways to Be Happy

Or try these 47 mind exercises to improve your sense of wellbeing.

That’s it from me, until next time – stay happy and healthy!

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