While researchers say it is mainly through science that people’s diseases are cured and the planet saved, new studies confirm how social interaction and happy family relationships can really keep us healthier. That is heartening news for individuals blessed with an abundance of good friends and caring family members.
A study recently published in the international clinical journal Heart pointed out that deficiencies in social relationships may be linked to an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke. Apart from producing negative effects on sleep and the immune system and triggering more inflammation, the recent study uncovered that social isolation ups heart disease risk by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. In effect, social isolation and loneliness do not just hurt, but can also snuff out lives.
The Pitfalls of Social Isolation
Social isolation must be distinguished from the experience of solitude many people seek at times. Solitude is the state of being alone, usually by choice. It may arise from being so engrossed with a hobby or work in one’s private sanctuary, or a state of non-stop busyness that prevents one from interacting with other people.
Social isolation has been noted by behavioral experts as a growing epidemic — one that may have dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who admit to recurring feelings of loneliness has increased – a situation that is replicated in other countries across the world.
The sad reality is that individuals who struggle with health problems, notably those with depressive tendencies and severe anxiety, tend to be lonelier than normally functioning individuals. The impact of social isolation on young kids also needs to be considered by parents.
Children who are isolated at an early age may likely have significantly poorer health 20 years later, apart from impaired social interaction as adults. This was confirmed by studies made over a decade ago by an international team of researchers who studied New Zealanders.
From a Physician’s Perspective
The importance of human connection has been underscored countless times, but its link to heart health has not been highlighted before. Positive affirmations arising from being an active and valued participant in the community can be of much help to seniors. Young ones will also benefit from not being too reclusive.
As Dr. Dhruv Khulla, resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said, “it is up to all of us — doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities — to maintain bonds where they’re fading, and create ones where they haven’t existed.” In doing so, the life you save may be your own.
Raising the hood on social isolation — and its possible effect on heart health — can help both healthcare professionals and families curb the rising statistics of heart ailments and stroke due to extreme feelings of loneliness. The study brings to light how being with people who offer the greatest encouragement, the greatest joys and friendships can have huge payoffs in overall health.