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‘My loneliness is killing me’: Loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, says study

Everyone experiences loneliness at one point in their lives. But the thing is, loneliness affects our bodies in more consequential ways, particularly to our well-being.

According to one study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, loneliness has such extensive consequences that the health impact is comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. It can increase the risk of heart disease, depression, and cognitive decline.

For seniors who are also struggling with feeling alone, it can lead to chronic health conditions, dementia, and early mortality. The detrimental effects do not stop until loneliness is cured or prevented.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, fears the possible long-term effects of loneliness on the mental and physical health of a person. He believes it will eventually lead to negative displays if it is not treated quickly.

“It’s a public health issue and a crisis. The pandemic has had a number of invisible costs in our country, and the increase in loneliness, the increase in mental health strain, these are part of those costs,” Murthy said at the Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in Marina del Rey, Calif., in April.

A month later, Murthy released “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” an advisory on the healing effects of social connection and community. He emphasized the importance of combating the public health crisis that loneliness, isolation, and disconnection cause.

“The harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished,” the advisory reads. “We are called to build a movement to mend the social fabric of our nation…each of us can start now, in our own lives, by strengthening our connections and relationships.”

Social isolation will only worsen the situation and separate people from their loved ones even more in many aspects. If a global pandemic can bring the world down in a snap, then so will loneliness once it starts creeping inside. Building and investing in strong support systems are critical to finding true happiness and maintaining good health.

“Some people wake up and realize that they really need to rebuild their friendship connections…a lot of their social connections may revolve just around work, or just around other sorts of activities that their kids do,” said Dr. Marc Schulz, coauthor of The Good Life and associate director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

The future of our well-being lies in our hands–have strong social connections and rebuild ties with friends and family (the good ones, of course).


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