Lifelong social isolation and loneliness can dramatically increase a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke – and with more lonely people in America than ever, experts fear that there will be an increase in such cases in the future.
A scientific statement published Thursday in the Journal of the American Heart Association indicates that social isolation and loneliness are linked to a 30% increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Although a lack of social interaction has been linked to all sorts of health problems, its strongest link might be cardiovascular problems. The added stress that can often accompany isolation can add unnecessary load to the body and cause harm.
Experts warn that two groups in particular are at risk. Older Americans – who, in retirement and widowhood, often find themselves alone – and Generation Z, a group described as the loneliest generation ever. The long-term loneliness of Gen Z in particular poses significant future health concerns.
Experts warn that social isolation and loneliness can increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke later in life by around 30%. Surveys have found Gen Z – America’s youngest adults – are the loneliest (file photo)
“More than four decades of research have clearly demonstrated that both social isolation and loneliness are associated with adverse health effects,” said Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené, who chaired the editorial of the statement and serves at the University of California, San Diego.
Experts write that social isolation is linked to an increase in all causes of death, with men being particularly at high risk.
Dr Crystal Wiley Cené (pictured) from the University of California, San Diego, said the results are “pretty significant” judging by the number of Americans suffering from loneliness.
Lonely people are more likely to suffer from chronic stress, one of the main factors that can impact heart health.
They explain that social isolation is also linked to increased levels of inflammation throughout the body, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, among other health problems.
“There is strong evidence linking social isolation and loneliness to an increased risk of poorer heart and brain health in general; however, data on the association with certain outcomes, such as heart failure, dementia, and cognitive impairment, are sparse,” Cené explained.
These data put two particular groups in general at high risk, both adults and younger portions of the US adult population.
Loneliness in the elderly is a well-documented phenomenon. Older people often do not have the ability or the energy to participate in social events as they could in their youth.
How Gen Z Became America’s Loneliest Generation
Americans are lonelier than ever, and experts warn it’s actually the younger generations who are feeling it the most
A UCLA study published in 2019 found that 43% of Americans feel lonely and 27% believe there are rarely or never people they meet with whom they connect.
The loneliness of each generation was noted by researchers at UCLA, and they surprisingly found that Generation Z was the most socially isolated.
Older generations actually reported being less lonely than their younger peers, a break from standard thinking
Lonely people suffer from worse overall health – both physically and mentally
One of the most common causes of problems like depression and anxiety is loneliness.
Experts also warn that loneliness can put a person at increased risk for certain cardiovascular or neurological problems.
Source: UCLA Loneliness Scale
Many close friends and family members will also have died over the years, causing them to lose contact. Younger family members usually grow up and enter their own lives away from their elders
Isolation within Gen Z is a relatively new concept, however. Generally accepted as people born between 1997 and 2012 – it includes Americans currently between the ages of 9 and 25.
One would expect people in these age groups to have lively and busy social lives, but that turned out not to be the case.
The statement cites a Harvard report that says Gen Z adults are currently the “loneliest generation” in America.
They point to increased use of social media and less in-person engagement with peers as reasons for this bizarre distinction.
“Given the prevalence of social disconnection in the United States, the public health impact is quite significant,” Cené said.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely also played a role. Closings of schools and many recreational activities have been blamed for an increase in mental health problems among younger Americans in recent years.
Loneliness and social isolation are two of the leading causes of depression in particular, the statement said.
Now that the problem has been raised by experts, Cené says it’s time to respond with solutions:
“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 and brain health, especially for at-risk populations.
“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 socially isolated or lonely people — especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke — to community resources to help them connect with others.”