Loneliness and Lifespan – New Research Highlights Mortality Risk Factor
Many people these days are feeling lonely – those who are in romantic relationships as well as those who are currently single. Furthermore, with more and more people choosing the childfree lifestyle this sense of loneliness may only become perpetuated in the future.
As I review this latest research, consider trends in society and look to the future, say 30+ years from now, I see two things: I see more people feeling isolated, lonely and lacking physical and emotional support; I see more businesses providing physical, emotional and social support for the lonely and isolated, particularly for the older generations.
What I also see is that our friendships will play an even greater vital role in our health and happiness than ever before. That our friendships may become our life lines in many ways.
We already know that those who are socially better connected tend to live longer, with some research stating up to 3.7 years longer than their less well connected counterparts. However, now, new analyses of research data spanning from 1980 to 2014 suggest that feelings of isolation and loneliness can impact our longevity as much as other well-researched mortality risk factors like obesity (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015).
The meta-analyses conducted on data from 70 research studies indicate that objective loneliness and isolation as well as subjective feelings of loneliness and isolation (even when the person is not objectively lonely and isolated) can actually predict greater risk of mortality, at a rate similar to obesity.
This research not only highlights how important it is that we begin to address loneliness and isolation as a health risk factor, it also conveys how powerful one’s perception (one’s thoughts) can be in determining one’s lifespan! The fact that people who had friends and weren’t physically isolated were still at a greater mortality risk because they felt lonely or isolated, regardless, demonstrates the power of the mind.
Addressing Feelings Of, As Well As Actual, Loneliness & Isolation
If mere feelings of loneliness and isolation are enough to impact our longevity, as well as actual loneliness and isolation, what do we need to start thinking about and what do we need to start doing differently? We live in a society where we are becoming increasingly focused on:
- eating organic food rather than genetically modified produce,
- eating more naturally occurring foods than processed junk,
- exercising regularly for health benefits rather than just weight loss benefits,
- consuming natural herbs rather than synthetic drugs to overcome physical illnesses,
- utilising a coach to address psychological concerns rather than consuming symptom-masking drugs.
If this list resonates with you, if you are the sort of person who wants to be mindful of the modern world’s affects on our health and happiness, then it’s time to add relationships to your list. Whether you’re a parent or a child, a spouse, sibling or friend, how much do you feel the VIPs in your life are getting of their RDA (recommended daily average) of social connectedness with other human beings? What about you? Are you getting your required dose? Key things to think about or ask questions around are:
- On a scale of 1-10, if 10 is completely, how much do you feel you have access to emotional support?
- Do you feel you nurture your important relationships frequently enough (one-on-one) to feel confident that you can use them for emotional support when you need it?
- Do you feel the VIPs in your life perceive you as someone who can offer them complete support when they need it so that the relationship is truly balanced and so that you then feel you have earned that privilege in return?
- Do you need to make new friends and start looking at how and where to do that?
- Do you need to nurture old friendships more than you have been recently to ensure that you have that network when you’re much older?
The people in our life are so important yet this busy world makes it easy to forget that, makes it easier to put them on the back-burner. In reality, any person of value in our life needs to be nurtured, loved, cherished and hugged.
One thing is for sure, if we were stripped of everything tomorrow, our possessions, careers, our looks, fame, wealth and health, if we had to start over living off the earth like cave men, as long as we had our relationships, we’d be okay. We’d keep going and we’d have the emotional resources to start over.
Is there anything in your life that is more valuable than the VIPs within it?