Smoking, drinking, junk food, lack of exercise and air pollution are thought to be risk factors for early mortality, but a new study shows that social life is also a very important factor that influences people of all ages.
The study was conducted by psychologists from Brigham Young University (Provo). The researchers have discovered that although older people were considered to be more prone to feeling lonely and having an overall higher risk of mortality, it looks like social isolation and solitude can be a cause of premature death even in the case of people who are less than 65 years old.
Other studied have shown that social interaction has a beneficial influence both on one’s mental and emotional condition and on the physical well-being.
However, so far there has been no meta-analysis that focused mainly on social isolation and solitude as factors of premature death. Although they seem similar, social isolation and loneliness is not the same thing. One can still feel lonely although one is surrounded by people, whereas others deliberately avoid the company of people and feel better in isolation. Irrespective of the situation, the effects on early mortality are the same.
The study conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad investigated the data from 70 studies performed between 1980 and 2014 which included over 3 million patients.
After checking differences regarding sex, age, social status, economic and health condition, the research concluded that premature death was linked to loneliness and social isolation, whereas an active social life had a beneficial effect on health condition. However, the author acknowledged that the age range was not so extended, including mostly adults of older age. Only 9% of the subjects analyzed were younger than 50.
Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the main author of the research, explains that the effect that loneliness has can be compared to obesity. But obesity is treated as a serious health condition, whereas social relationships are not. One’s social life should be taken as seriously as obesity, she adds. In fact the risk of premature mortality is higher in the case of lonely and socially isolated persons than in the case of obese ones.
Although the study was limited by the age ranges, the author believes that it is enough to raise a warning about the worrying rates of social isolation. Co-author Tim Smith is concerned with the fact in the future society may the threatened by a loneliness epidemic.
Image Source: Boston
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