Take Charge of Your Health - Loneliness: Our Latest Public Health Challenge
The most prevalent health issue in the country
is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It's isolation.
-Dr. Vivek Murthy, former U.S Surgeon General
Did you know that loneliness and isolation are as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day? It was news to us. In fact, it's our newest public health challenge, rivaling cancer, heart disease, smoking and obesity. Even the United Kingdom recently appointed a new minister of heath to address loneliness as a public health priority.
According to a 2015 study done at Brigham Young University, there are 3.5 million Americans who are at risk of premature death at a rate 26-32% higher than normal because of loneliness and isolation. Loneliness is tied to increased incidence of clinical depression and suicidal ideation, elevated blood pressure, increased levels of stress hormones and compromised immune system function. Further linkages have been found to Alzheimer's Disease, poor sleep, alcoholism and cancer.
So what can we do? The longitudinal study of aging at Harvard University spanning 75 years with over 700 men found that regardless of socioeconomic status, race or age, "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier." According to the study's current director Dr. Robert Waldinger, "Staying connected and involved is actually a form of taking care of yourself just like exercising and eating right."
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics Time Use Survey found that the average American spends less than 4 minutes a day "hosting and attending social events." This translates to approximately 24 hours a year, which barely covers requisite Thanksgiving and holiday command performances. It is obvious we need to make significant changes aimed at increasing the breadth of our interactions. Some blame the internet and social media for exacerbating feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety. And to make matters worse, according to Professor John Cacioppo who studies social networks, loneliness is contagious, "On the periphery, people have fewer friends, which makes them lonely, but it also drives them to cut the few ties that they have left. But before they do, they tend to transmit the same feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, starting the cycle anew."
Experts suggest that even the act of trying to develop friendships has a health benefit. In his personal effort to stem the tide of social isolation Dr. Murthy instituted a 5-minute exercise at his U.S. Public Health Service meetings where the staff could share personal, meaningful stories or photos to facilitate interpersonal connections.
So, next time you are in the grocery line or at the gym. try saying hello to the person next to you, engage in simple conversation, join a club or set up a routine meeting with friends or acquaintances. It's no longer a luxury, it is actually good for your health.
As always, join us on the Health-E3 website blog page. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences. Check out our newest page on Personalized Care. Feel free to ask a question about anything on the website or suggest ideas for additional helpful information. And remember, it's up to you to Take Charge of Your Health.