Loneliness may be hazardous to your health
A heavy heart may be just as bad for the body as it is for the soul,
according to a new study.
Loneliness has been found to be a major risk factor in increasing blood
pressure in older people, and because of this could increase the risk of death
by stroke and heart disease, according to researchers at the University of
“The major causes of morbidity and mortality have changed from infectious
to cardiovascular diseases,” co-authors Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo
wrote in their study. Their findings may be of clinical interest because high
blood pressure is a well recognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease,
the researchers said.
In their paper, “Loneliness is a Unique Predictor of Age-Related
Differences in Systolic Blood Pressure,” published in the March issue of the
journal Psychology and Aging, the pair found lonely people between the ages of
50 and 68 had blood pressure readings that were as much as 30 points higher than
non-lonely people, even when other contributing factors were taken into
“Loneliness is a complex physiological phenomenon that incorporates
feelings of dysphoria (opposite of euphoria) and stress, dissatisfaction with
social support and hostility towards others,” according to the paper. It has
already been associated with higher incidences of other health issues, including
alcoholism, depression, and insomnia, and even impaired immune functions,
according to the authors.
The increase in blood pressure associated with loneliness is about the same
magnitude as reductions attained through weight loss and regular physical
activity in people suffering from hypertension. By these standards, improving
ones sense of social connectedness could have clinical benefits comparable to
lifestyle modifications, the authors wrote.
The team based their research on a study of 229 people aged 50 to 68.
Participants were randomly chosen and asked to rate its connections with others
through a series of topics, such as “I have a lot in common with the people
around me,” “My social relationships are superficial,” and “I can find
companionship when I want it.”
The research team took into consideration other factors like race, weight,
alcohol consumption, smoking, blood pressure medications, and demographic
characteristics and found that people who rated high on being lonely had a
significantly higher blood pressure than non-lonely people with similar profiles
on the other measures.
More research is required to determine the exact causal relationship, however
the researchers did offer some possible explanations.
“Lonely people differ from non-lonely individuals in their tendency to
perceive stressful circumstances as threatening rather than challenging,” Dr.
Cacioppo said in a statement. “[Lonely people] passively cope with stress by
failing to solicit instrumental and emotional support and by withdrawing from
stress rather than by actively coping and attempting to problem solve.”