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Avoid Loneliness and Cultivate Personal Relationships

Avoid Loneliness and Cultivate Personal Relationships

Loneliness may be deadlier than previously thought, but these tips can help.

In Alan Sillitoe’s 1962 classic British film, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a reform school student (Tom Courtenay) makes a name for himself with his ability to run great distances flat out. Loneliness has been a recurring theme of British life (from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Jean Rhys’ Good Morning Midnight), but it’s gotten so pervasive that the Prime Minister appointed a minister for loneliness to try to reverse the trend.

Here in the US, it’s also an epidemic: At any given time, around 43 percent of folks say they’re lonely. Young, heavy users of social media are at greatest risk of loneliness. Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says loneliness can be worse for you than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It heightens your risk of depression and anxiety and increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and dementia, making your RealAge many years older.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, Cigna Health found those who lived with others, got the right amount of sleep, are working, exercising and have interaction with family and friends, scored the best.

So, log off social media (unless you’re using a dating app) and cultivate in-person relationships. Opt for real face time rather than Facebook time. Call an old friend. Make plans to see family. Join a walking club; volunteer in your community. It could save your life.

Bonus: A study published in the journal Psychophysiology found close relationships, especially high-quality, romantic relationships, are consistently associated with positive physical health outcomes.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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