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The Health Toll of Being Lonely

A recent study published in the Health Psychology journal, based on interview responses over a period of years from more than 19,000 married people up to age 90, suggests that married people who rated their unions as “very happy” or “pretty happy” were about 20 percent less likely to die early. The report seems consistent with other findings suggesting that a supportive marriage helps reinforce a couple’s mutual psychological and physical health.

Speaking with Time magazine, study co-author Mark Whisman, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder notes that marriage provides people with meaningful roles and identity, as well as a purpose in life and a sense of security. Such findings underscore our essential need for social support, be from it a spouse or close family and friends. What this recent study shows is that the quality and quantity of those close social relationships are strong indicators of a person’s physical and mental health as they age. It also highlights the link between social isolation and poorer physical and mental health.

This is an important point because loneliness continues to be on the rise in the U.S.

According to a new report from the AARP Foundation, today more than a third of adults over 45 are lonely. That adds up to nearly 48 million Americans. We need to wake up and start thinking of social isolation as we would a serious but treatable condition — because it is one. As the study notes, reaching out to others is a healthy habit to get into. When it comes to social contacts, more is better. Those who qualified as lonely tended to have fewer people with whom they said they can “discuss matters of personal importance” or turn to for support. Finding needed social support is the key to recovery.

An unrelated study recently released by the Health Foundation in London also found that people who had consistently high levels of social connectedness were 9 percent less likely to fall behind on preventive services and screenings than those with limited social networks.

As I pointed out last March, loneliness is a very powerful trigger. It can trigger stress, depression or a depressive episode. All of these reactions, when drawn out, come with negative health consequences.

Living a long life should be a blessing, not defined by loss of vigor, increasing frailty, rising disease risk, failing cognitive faculties and isolation.

According to a series of reports in Time magazine on the “Secrets of Living Longer,” while the end of life is a nonnegotiable thing, the quality and exact length of that life is something we very much have the power to shape.

Eating well and staying active, staying socially engaged, investing in and placing proper value on our relationships, staying curious and having a lifelong learner are all signposts along the way to a longer, happier and healthier life.

Living life with a sense of purpose is the essential ingredient. Having a sense of purpose is linked to positive health outcomes including better sleep, fewer strokes and heart attacks as well as a lower risk of dementia, disability and premature death.

We all probably know that exercise helps people live longer. A new study by Cleveland Clinic takes this notion even further: Researchers found that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease. The study’s biggest revelation is that fitness leads to longer life, with no limit to the benefit of aerobic exercise.

The benefits of exercise were found across all ages and in both men and women who participated in the study — whether they were in their 40s or their 80s.

The challenge continues not only in finding the discipline to do these things routinely, but to ensure that this pathway is available to everyone.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay