New Study Finds Loneliness Increases Chances of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular (heart) disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. New research shows loneliness may increase the chances of obtaining heart disease, but there are still ways to combat it.

Key takeaways:
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    New study shows loneliness, social isolation, and living alone increase the chances of heart disease.
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    Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the world, but preventative measures can help.
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    Finding ways to cope with loneliness will help decrease the chances of heart disease.

One in every three deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. While many factors can contribute, a new study from The University of Limerick in Ireland discovered loneliness increases the chance of heart disease.

The probe featured researchers from all over the globe, including collaborators from the College of Medicine at Florida State University and the Department of Psychology at Humboldt University Berlin.

The study evaluated five databases and over 35 studies from within. Ultimately, researchers concluded loneliness, social isolation, and living alone lead to higher chances of mortality if diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

"Social health factors such as loneliness and social isolation have gained a significant amount of attention recently and are really important to think of within the context of cardiovascular health,... What was unclear is to what degree they impact how long people live when they have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Our review found that each of these factors is critically important to consider in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, as increased levels of loneliness, social isolation, and living alone appear to lead to premature death."

Róisín Long

Róisín Long, a professional clinical psychologist and student in the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at the University of Limerick, was the lead investigator in the project. In a university press release, Long highlights the importance of the discoveries.

Heart disease in the United States

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. According to data from the Centers For Disease Control (CDC), around 697,000 people died of heart disease in 2020. The most common forms of heart disease include coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

Risk factors associated with heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight or obese
  • Poor eating habits
  • Low to zero levels of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use

There are ways to limit the chances of heart disease through nutritious eating habits and an overall healthy lifestyle. Reducing foods high in saturated and trans fat while consuming high-fiber foods with limited bad fats can help prevent high cholesterol. Also, not exceeding recommended 2,300 mg/day of sodium can help prevent high blood pressure. Seventy percent of Americans who experience a first-time heart attack suffer from high blood pressure.

Obesity can also lead to heart disease, causing the heart and blood vessels to work harder. The Body Max Index (BMI) calculator can help determine a healthy weight for one’s height.

Along with healthy foods and maintaining weight, exercise is another excellent way to prevent heart disease. The U.S. Surgeon General suggests 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children. Walking is recommended as the easiest way to incorporate physical activity, as it requires no gym equipment.

Dealing with loneliness

The aging population is on the rise worldwide and especially in the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the older population will outnumber children by 2034 for the first time in the nation’s history.

Loneliness increases with age; statistics from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found over 33% of adults 45 years and older feel lonely. It is important for those feeling lonely, socially isolated, or living alone to connect with others.

Data from the CDC shows minority populations, including LGBTQ groups and immigrant populations, are more likely to experience loneliness. First-generation Americans are more likely to experience language barriers or cultural differences, which contribute to loneliness, while some LGBTQ individuals may feel out of touch due to heterosexual cultural norms.

Ways to overcome loneliness or self-isolation:

  • Find new hobbies to participate in.
  • Maintain healthy eating habits and recommended levels of physical activity.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to old friends or family to reignite past relationships or strengthen current ones.
  • Seek help from national organizations, including the AARP, Area Agencies on Aging, Eldercare Locator, National Council on Aging, and the National Institute on Aging.
  • Stay confident.
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