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Heart Disease Linked to Loneliness Similar to Smoking

The year 2020 has challenged us in multiple ways, but one of the most obvious ways has been loneliness and isolation. This month at PT360, we are looking at ways to keep our hearts healthy.  We know the basics, such as movement, avoiding smoking, and eating healthy.  But did you know that loneliness is also a component to heart health?  I didn’t either, until recently.

 

I had listened to a couple podcasts that had referenced some statistics saying how bad loneliness and social isolation are for us, equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking six drinks a day. That was shocking to me! The research from 2016 showed that social isolation, loneliness, and both were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It is also linked to a weaker immune system, as well as high blood pressure. Due to the ways of our world now, we live in more rural pockets with less condensed neighborhoods, we work from home alone, we talk to people online vs in person.  This has all lead to an increased prevalence in loneliness and social isolation in our current society.

 

What does loneliness have to do with our heart? Mostly the changes we make to our health risk behaviors are what drives these numbers up, the data shows. There is a reduced physical activity level, reduced sleep quality, and increased changes of smoking, as well as associations with depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal when we are isolated. The changes in our behavior can lead to increased blood pressure, more plaque build-up in our arteries called atherosclerosis, and sympathetic nervous system over-activation. Essentially, when we are isolated, we tend to make less healthy decisions.

 

So what can we do about this? Obviously 2020 was a very isolating year across the country as well as Vermont. Yay for low COVID-19 numbers, but not-so-yay for increased loneliness. Here are some thoughts about ways we can improve our isolation and get our hearts healthy:

  • Make plans to walk outside while socially-distanced with friends. This is way to be with people but also get exercise.
  • Enhance social support by reaching out to a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. They may feel the same way you do and need some support as well
  • Try meditation.  This has been shown to reduce loneliness. A couple of guided-meditation apps are Headspace and Waking Up
  • Start moving and exercising. Endorphins help to reduce feelings of loneliness and is good for our immune system.

If you have questions or want to start an exercise program, reach out to any of our four clinics and we can help you.  2021 for the win!

 

References:

Harvard Men's Health Watch - Loneliness has the same risk as smoking for heart disease

Antioxidants & Redox Signaling - Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Cardiovascular Health