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Report: Social Isolation, Loneliness Increase Chances of Cardiovascular Issues

A new study out of the Journal of the American Heart Association shows a connection between isolation, both real or perceived, and deadly issues like heart attack and stroke.

Social isolation has long been known to detrimentally affect mental health, but studies are finding more links to loneliness and physical problems than ever before. Of course, this field is difficult to study, given the morality of testing requirements; plus, the results are pretty self-evident: loneliness hurts, no matter the type of person it affects. But as we saw during the COVID-19 panic when isolation became a government mandate, society desperately needs legitimate, funded studies like these to sway public health decisions in favor of positive mental health…and perhaps physical, too.

Recently, a team of researchers found that socially isolated individuals have a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack and stroke. They also saw a 30 percent higher risk of dying from those two conditions in participants.

“Over four decades of research has clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes,” says Crystal Wiley Cené, one of the researchers behind the statement and a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California San Diego Health, in a press release. “Given the prevalence of social disconnectedness across the U.S., the public health impact is quite significant.”

Loneliness and social isolation often led to a sedentary lifestyle, research showed

One survey recently reported that as many as 36 percent of people in the U.S. felt feelings of isolation and loneliness “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the face of the pandemic. Researchers found such sentiments had the potential to negatively affect multiple physical health outcomes; but cardiovascular issues were most prevalent and deadly. Owner a lonely heart, indeed.

“Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with worse prognosis in individuals who already have heart disease or stroke,” Cené added. According to the report, socially isolated adults faced a 40 percent increase in the risk of recurring heart attacks and strokes. Also, those who already had heart disease had a 100 to 200 percent increase in the risk of death in a follow-up study of six years.

A significant indicator for heart problems is a sedentary lifestyle, and participants who reported chronic loneliness also reported less physical movement or exercise than happier, more socialized counterparts.

“There is an urgent need to develop, implement and evaluate programs and strategies to reduce the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular […] health, particularly for at-risk populations,” Cené continued in the release.

“Clinicians should ask patients about the frequency of their social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interactions with friends and family. They should then be prepared to refer people who are socially isolated or lonely — especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke — to community resources to help them connect with others.”

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