The risk of heart disease is higher among individuals who are lonely or isolated. The findings of the study uncovered that social isolation increased the risk of heart disease and stroke by 30 percent, which is similar to the impact of job-related stress on cardiac wellbeing.
Lead researcher Nicole Valtorta said, “Addressing loneliness and social isolation could have an important role in the prevention of two of the leading causes of ill health and mortality worldwide. We take risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity for granted, whereas we do not yet with social isolation and loneliness. The data from our study support us taking it seriously.”
“However, if we put the study findings into context, what we found is comparable in size to the effect of other psychosocial risk factors such as anxiety and job strain. Efforts to prevent heart disease and stroke could benefit from taking social isolation and loneliness into account,” added Valtorta.
The researchers analyzed data from 23 previously published studies that included over 180,000 adults. Among the participants, over 4,600 experienced heart attacks, angina, or died, and over 3,000 suffered stroke.
The findings revealed that social isolation increased the risk of stroke by 32 percent and the risk of heart attack or angina by 29 percent.
Loneliness has previously been linked to weakened immune system, high blood pressure, and premature death. The findings reveal that there needs to be a stronger focus on combating social isolation and loneliness as a means to reduce health complications, but this task may be much more difficult than it seems. Some researchers believe that social media platforms may be able to help connect individuals, but there is little evidence that these sites can have the same benefits as face-to-face contact. On the other hand, high-quality relationships are far more beneficial for combating loneliness and isolation.
Furthermore, having close social connections can help a person partake in healthier lifestyle habits, as friends can encourage each other to be more active and health conscious.
Coauthor of an accompanying journal editorial Julianne Holt-Lunstad concluded, “Given that the effect of social connections on risk for heart disease and stroke and death is equivalent and, in many cases, exceeds that of other factors such as light smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and air quality, we need to start taking social connection seriously for our health.”