Feeling lonely or socially isolated could increase your chances of dying early, a study reveals. The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour in June 2023, analyzed 90 studies involving over 2 million adults.

People who were socially isolated had a 32% higher risk of early death compared to those who were not. Feeling lonely also increased the risk by 14%. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, emphasized the importance of these factors, having previously led a US Surgeon General report on the topic.

Social isolation means having limited contact with others or living alone. Loneliness is feeling unhappy due to a lack of satisfying social relationships. Both can be harmful to health, said Anthony Ong, a psychology professor at Cornell University.

Turhan Canli, a neuroscience professor at Stony Brook University, pointed out that constant loneliness can be like chronic stress, affecting the body negatively. The study also found that socially isolated people with cardiovascular disease or breast or colorectal cancer had a higher risk of early death.

Canli added that socially isolated or lonely people often have unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, or poor diet, which can contribute to their risk of early death.

Fan Wang, the study’s first author and an epidemiology professor at Harbin Medical University, noted that even if someone is lonely but has a small social network, they might handle stress better. On the other hand, being socially isolated can prevent people from getting medical care because no one checks on them.

To tackle this issue, Wang suggests seeking social support actively. Canli recommends treating maintaining social connections like any other health-promoting activity, alongside exercising and eating well. Public health strategies to address loneliness and social isolation are crucial, Wang emphasized, along with identifying these issues in patients to provide appropriate help.

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