Loneliness can make us sick, but here are tips to fight back

On my new TV show, “Ask Dr. Walt” on LiftableTV, I devoted an entire show to the topic, “Avoid Loneliness Like the Plague.” I consider healthy relationships one of the top ten essentials of highly healthy people. Here’s why:

A recent article from Humana is instructive:

Humans are social animals. We tend to thrive when we interact with other people.

The isolation that people are feeling due to COVID has created opportunities for public health officials to study the consequences of loneliness on mental and physical health.

But loneliness and social isolation was an issue well before the COVID pandemic exposed these types of feelings to the broader public.

Whether they’ve lost the connections they had when they were working, or their children have grown, or they have a health condition, older adults find that sometimes it becomes harder to socialize than it once was.

In many cases, close friends have died or even a spouse.

In January 2019, the federal Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) used the term “loneliness epidemic” to describe the situation among older people, saying 43 percent of seniors reported feeling lonely on a regular basis.

What’s more, this loss of social support may make us physically sick.

HRSA cited research showing loneliness as “more dangerous than obesity and as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

In 2016, an analysis of studies from around the world found that a lack of social interaction is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that there are many ways to combat loneliness.

While no single method works for everyone, here are a few ideas according to researchers:

  • Maintain your existing relationships as best you can.
    • Keep in touch with the people you care about.
    • Video calls are a good way to “see” friends.
    • When an old friend says, “We ought to get together and have lunch,” follow up. Have that lunch.
  • See if there’s a neighborhood organization in your community.
    • You can mingle with neighbors.
    • Maybe the group has a potluck supper.
  • Explore moving to a senior living community or sharing your space with a dear friend.
  • Mix with people who share your interests.
    • Attend a gallery opening, lecture, or concert.
      Join a book club, cooking group, or health club.
  • Churches near you would probably enjoy seeing a new face.
    • Go ahead and call or attend a service.
  • One route people may take after they retire is volunteering for a cause they believe in.
    • According to an organization called HelpGuide, volunteering can help you make new friends, learn new skills, and even feel happier and healthier.
    • Groups such as VolunteerMatch work with you to match your interests with volunteer opportunities in your area.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2021. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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