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    The fatal perils of a lonely heart

    Loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; as dangerous as being an alcoholic, as harmful as never exercising, and twice as dangerous as obesity.

    That’s one of the findings of researchers at Brigham Young University, who say you can die from loneliness (or social isolation, as they term it). In Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review, published in the online journal PLOS Medicine, the researchers meta-analyzed 148 different studies, involving 309,000 people.

    Those with good social relations—the support of family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues—had a 50 percent greater chance of survival during the time periods of the studies, than lonely people. The studies covered time spans ranging from three months to 53 years, and averaging 7.1 years.

    The study showed that the health benefits of strong social relations are greater than had been appreciated, while the consequences of isolation are worse, according to lead author Dr. Juliane-Holt-Lunstad. ”No one in the health community seemed to recognize the extent to which social relations affect mortality,” she commented in a news release from Brigham Young. “Both the number and quality of contacts in your social network count. People who have more, or more complex social resources versus people who have less, have higher rates of survival.”

    “When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility to other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks.”

    Less exercise, poor diet, and less attention to medical care are among frequent factors in social isolation.

    Isolation increases most often in senior years. Young people have strong social relationships at college, and later in the workplace, while age diminishes contacts, with the absence of co-workers or friends, neighbours and others who have deceased or moved. Unemployed single people can also become increasingly isolated.

    But the health effects of social relations are “not isolated to older adults,” Holt-Lunstad says. “Relationships provide a level of protection against mortality at all ages.”

    Reference: Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB, 2010 Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316.

    Relationships,Health,Mortality,Loneliness, Juliane Holt-Lunstad.

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