Social isolation, loneliness can damage heart and brain health

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Scientists from the American Heart Association suggest that social isolation and loneliness may increase the risk of having or dying from a heart attack or stroke.

The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association and was conducted by Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené et al.

Over four decades of research have clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes.

Social isolation is defined as having relatively few in-person social contacts, whereas loneliness occurs when people perceive themselves as isolated, causing them to feel distressed.

In the new paper, the team cites a 2018 survey that found more than 1 in 5 U.S. adults said they often or always felt lonely or socially isolated.

While life changes such as losing a spouse or retiring can result in fewer social connections and interactions for older people, another survey found it’s young adults ages 18 to 22 who are now considered the loneliest generation, spending more time on social media and less engaged in in-person activities than previous generations.

Data suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse, especially for young adults.

The team says social isolation and loneliness are under-recognized determinants of cardiovascular and brain health.

The researchers found social isolation and loneliness are most strongly linked to heart disease and stroke, with a 29% increased risk for heart attack and/or death from heart disease and a 32% increased risk for stroke.

The team also found a link between social isolation and mental health risk factors.

Those who were socially isolated were more likely to experience depression, and those with depression were more likely to be socially isolated.

However, evidence of a link between social isolation, loneliness, and cognitive impairment or dementia was sparse or mixed.

People who are socially isolated or lonely may engage in behaviors that further harm heart and brain health, such as eating fewer fruits and vegetables, not getting enough physical activity, and being too sedentary.

Several large studies found an association between loneliness and a higher likelihood of smoking.

The team also found that socio-environmental factors also likely to play a role.

Studies show fitness programs and recreational activities at senior centers, along with programs that combat negative thinking, can help reduce social isolation and loneliness, the statement notes.

The researchers called for more research into how such interventions could help.

If you care about mental health, please read studies about new depression treatment that is highly effective, and medical cannabis can help reduce depression.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about beverage that could cut depression in older people, and results showing this common depression drug could help prevent severe COVID-19.

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