Social isolation and loneliness throughout life can significantly increase a person’s risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke.
According to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, a 30 per cent increase in the risk of heart disease or stroke can be attributed to a lack of social interactions.
While loneliness is linked with all kinds of health issues, it is believed its most significant impact relates to cardiovascular problems.
Experts warn that those most at risk are the elderly and, perhaps more alarmingly, generation Z, those born between the late 1990s and the 2010s.
Data also suggests that social isolation and loneliness may have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among young adults aged 18-25, older adults, women, and low-income individuals.
Although related, social isolation and loneliness are not the same things. Social isolation is defined as having infrequent in-person contact with people for social relationships, such as with family, friends, or members of the same community or religious group.
Meanwhile, loneliness is when you feel alone or have less connection with others than you desire.
The writing group reviewed research on social isolation to examine the relationship between social isolation and cardiovascular and brain health.
Among their findings, the team found:
Social isolation and loneliness are common yet under-recognized determinants of cardiovascular and brain health.
Lack of social connection is associated with an increased risk of premature death from all causes, especially among men.
Isolation and loneliness are associated with elevated inflammatory markers, and individuals who were less socially connected were more likely to experience physiological symptoms of chronic stress.
In assessing risk factors for social isolation, the relationship between social isolation and its risk factors goes both ways: depression may lead to social isolation, and social isolation may increase the likelihood of experiencing depression.
Social isolation during childhood is associated with increased cardiovascular risk factors in adulthood, such as obesity, high blood pressure and increased blood glucose levels.
Socio-environmental factors, including transportation, living arrangements, dissatisfaction with family relationships, the pandemic and natural disasters, are also factors that affect social connections.
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