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Loneliness Can Hurt Your Health More Than You Think

Loneliness Can Hurt Your Health More Than You Think

In the 2000 film Cast Away, Tom Hanks played Chuck Noland, a man stranded on an island for four years. Noland finds a volleyball from the wreckage of his plane and, out of loneliness, draws a face on it, naming it Wilson. Noland then constantly talks to his “companion” as if it were another person.

Clearly, one of the most basic human needs is to be connected to others. Friends, family and colleagues—they aren’t just fun to spend time with. Being connected makes you healthier and happier. But according to a paper presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, loneliness is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in America.

Approximately 42.6 million adults over the age of 45 are suffering from chronic loneliness, according to AARP’s 2010 Loneliness Study, and the public health consequences are devastating. The researchers found that social isolation increases the risk of premature death significantly—even more than obesity does. And you know what a health threat that is!

If you feel lonely or blue, even occasionally, it’s time to plug back into the world. If your isolation is because of illness, find local, online and telephone-based support groups for people with your condition. If you’re new to an area, volunteer with local organizations in schools and charities, or join a club (try a cooking club) and you’ll get social very quickly. If you’ve lost touch with former friends and family, reach out. Make the effort. You’ll reduce your risk of early death by 50 percent.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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