New research shows that feeling lonely is a big risk factor for heart attack, clogged arteries and stroke. In fact, the dangers of loneliness are on par with obesity, light smoking and anxiety. The British study found that feeling lonely or being socially isolated increases your risk by 29 percent for heart disease and 32 percent for stroke.
Additional research links loneliness to cognitive decline and poor immune system function. It has even been linked to an increased chance of diabetes, sleep disorders, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease.
All the Lonely People… Where Do They All Come From?
An AARP Magazine survey asked people ages 45 and older about loneliness. They found that overall, about 35 percent of us are chronically lonely. However, the loneliest among us are adults in their 40s and 50s.
While 43 percent of peoples ages 45-49 feel lonely, the percentages decrease as we age:
- 41 percent of 50-59 experience chronic loneliness
- 32 percent of 60-69 have the same problem
- And only 25 percent of those 70 and over feel chronically lonely
How to Protect Yourself from Loneliness in Retirement
While loneliness may decrease as you age, the impact of feeling alone can have a greater impact on your declining health.
Here are 7 tips for protecting yourself from loneliness:
Talk to Your Doctor: If you are feeling lonely, talk with your doctor. Mental health services are covered by Medicare part B.
Think Carefully About Where You Live: Retirement is often a time when we move to new places. Living in an unfamiliar location can sometimes increase your risk for experiencing loneliness.
In retirement, you might consider living in close proximity to family and lifelong friends. Another option is to live in a senior community with built in social functions.
Maintain Social Networks: We say it all the time, “keep in touch.” Well, in retirement it is more important than ever to actually do it. Call up a friend for a walk. Have a standing date for coffee every morning with friends. Keep in touch with colleagues you had at work by having lunch every once in a while. No matter what you do, it is important to nurture and participate in your social networks.
Make New Friends: Just as you need to keep in contact with your old friends, you also need to make new ones. It used to be that seniors joined a shuffle board team, but now there are senior ski clubs, hiking clubs, tennis teams and more.
You can even start your own group around something that interests you — mixing old and new friends.
Keep Working: In addition to helping your retirement finances, work can be a great way to stay connected to other people.
If you don’t need the income, volunteering can have the same social benefits.
Careful About Social Media: Facebook and texting are not a good substitute for physical connection with people.
Exercise and Eat Well: The best medicine for anything that could ail us — including loneliness — is a good diet and regular exercise.