Having and maintaining relationships isn’t just good for the soul. Numerous studies also find that people with close social ties have longer, healthier lives. Conversely, a secluded lifestyle is linked with premature death and illnesses like depression, dementia, and hypertension.
Now, experts know more about how poor social relationships might affect our risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, The Guardian reports. New research published online this week in the journal Heart finds that loneliness or social isolation is tied to an approximately 30 percent increased risk for both conditions.
A team of English researchers from the universities of York, Liverpool, and Newcastle conducted a meta-analysis of 23 previous studies. The studies involved 181,000 men and women, who were monitored anywhere from three to 21 years. All together, participants accounted for 4628 cases of cardiovascular disease and 3002 incidents of stroke. Meanwhile, three of the studies used questionnaires to measure loneliness among subjects, while 18 looked at social isolation, and two included both, The New York Times reports.
After examining and reanalyzing the raw data, researchers noted that individuals who reported feeling lonely or socially isolated were linked with a 29 percent increase in risk of heart disease and a 32 percent increase in risk of stroke. The results were the same among men and women. In all, researchers said that the health effects of loneliness were comparable to the toll that job stress and anxiety takes on our well-being.
The researchers are quick to point out that the meta-analysis only shows an association between loneliness and coronary disease and stroke. It doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship; more research is needed to make any definite conclusions. However, they say their findings underscore the importance of maintaining a socially connected life. Taking steps to address loneliness and social isolation—educational programs, social activities, and cognitive behavioral therapy, to a name a few—could help public health officials lower incidents of cardiac disease and stroke, two leading causes of morbidity in high-income countries.
"Similar to how cardiologists and other healthcare professionals have taken strong public stances regarding other factors exacerbating [cardiovascular disease], eg. smoking and diets high in saturated fats, further attention to social connections is needed in research and public health surveillance, prevention and intervention efforts," they concluded.
[h/t The Guardian]