You probably know many of the risk factors that damage your heart health. Smoking, poor diet and not exercising enough are all things we’re told about regularly. One potential danger that isn’t as obvious but has been the subject of quite a bit of research is the harm that loneliness can cause.

Some scientists have even claimed that loneliness can be just as dangerous as smoking (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890922/). Plenty of studies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831910/) indicate poorer health outcomes, including cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, strokes and heart disease. That’s on top of possible connections to Alzheimer’s and mental health problems like depression.

When we say loneliness, we don’t necessarily mean literally being on your own. It’s about how you feel. Some people are comfortable in relative solitude. Others can feel isolated even when they’re surrounded by people because of their perception of being ignored or dismissed. Social isolation is a particular risk for older people whose mobility may be limited and who may not be near family.

This all means that in addition to taking care of your physical and mental health, you have to check on your social needs. Perhaps you need to give volunteering a try, or there’s a new hobby you want to try. If you can’t get out of the house yourself, there are programs and charities where people might visit you to offer some company.

We’re not exactly sure how loneliness and heart health are connected. We just know the evidence suggests that when you’re lonely, your heart health is worse and your risk of dying is higher. Loneliness is a form of stress, so it may be triggering various chemical reactions through your body and putting your nervous system in overdrive. This can put every part of your body under increasing strain.

There’s also a possible less direct link. Loneliness may contribute to depression, which can discourage people from going out or seeking help, which then makes the loneliness worse in a vicious cycle. People with depression are also less likely to have a balanced and nutritious diet and to exercise regularly, which are vital if your heart is to stay healthy.

So, if you’re feeling lonely, don’t just sit and stew in it. Go online and find a local group or activity you may enjoy. And if you know someone who seems isolated, reach out. There could be a lot at stake!

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