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The Dangers of Loneliness

The Dangers of Loneliness

By , Caring.com senior editor
93% helpful
Lonely-woman

Good for you if you exercise, watch your weight, and don't smoke -- but if you live in lonely solitude, your health may suffer anyway. Social isolation is increasingly seen as a health threat independent of physical condition. And yes, it's harmful enough to kill you.

Loneliness can wreck the body like a physical stress. Scientists believe that feeling disconnected and alone may trigger damaging inflammation and immune-system changes. Loneliness has also been shown to speed up the heart-health changes of aging.

How bad is it? A 2010 Brigham Young University review of studies involving more than 300,000 people concluded that loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. In a 2012 Archives of Internal Medicine study, older adults who described themselves as lonely had a 56 percent higher risk of developing functional decline (such as losing the ability to walk or climb stairs). They had a 45 percent increased risk of dying.

Fortunately, you can take steps to buffer the negative effects of loneliness:

Fight Loneliness With the Power of Positive Thinking

Your outlook can offset some of the stress of loneliness, research shows. Lonely older adults who reframed health setbacks in a more positive light and didn't blame themselves for negative events were found to have fewer stress hormones than peers who did, according to a 2012 study.

What helps: Examples of the kind of thinking that seemed to protect the positive thinkers, according to Concordia University researchers: "Even if my health is in a very difficult condition, I can find something positive in life." "When I find it impossible to overcome a health problem, I try not to blame myself."