Loneliness and feeling unloved TWICE as likely to kill you as being fat… as scientists warn against elderly retiring to sunnier climes
- US researchers urge people to stay socially active in their old age
- Tracked health of 2,000 men and women aged 50-plus for six years
- Feeling cut off from others can push blood pressure up into danger zone
- Can also disrupt sleep, leaving people feeling lethargic the next day
- Lonely people are also more likely to rely on sleeping tablets
Being lonely in later life could be worse for your health than obesity, according to research.
Feeling cut off from others can push blood pressure up into the danger zone for heart attacks and strokes, weaken the immune system and raise the risk of depression, a conference was told.
The US researchers urged those in middle-age to think about how they are going to stay socially active in old age – and warned against retiring to the sun.
John Cacioppo, a professor of psychology who has spent 20 years studying the impact of loneliness, tracked the health of more than 2,000 men and women aged 50-plus for six years.
The loneliest men and women were almost twice as likely to die during that period than those who felt the most wanted and needed. Another study found loneliness to be twice as deadly as obesity.
Feeling cut off from others can push blood pressure up into the danger zone for heart attacks and strokes, weaken the immune system and raise the odds of depression, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference heard.
It can also disrupt sleep, leaving people feeling lethargic the next day and more likely to rely on sleeping tablets.
Professor Cacioppo, of the University of Chicago, has shown that we don’t sleep less when we are lonely – we just wake up more.
It is thought that if we feel isolated were are extra-alert to threats and so wake up at the slightest noise.
The warnings come as Britain faces the twin challenge of an ageing population and an increasingly fragmented society, in which many people communicate over the internet rather than face-to-face.
Professor Cacioppo said: ‘We are experiencing a silver tsunami demographically. The baby boomers are reaching retirement age. People have to think about how to protect themselves.’
He suggests the retired stay in touch with former colleagues and stay near their family – and advises against a new start in the sun.
The professor said: ‘We have mythic notions of retirement. We think that retirement means leaving friends and family and buying a place where it is warm and living happily ever after. But that’s probably not the best idea.
‘We find people who continue to interact with coworkers after retirement and have friends close by are less lonely. Take time to enjoy yourself and share good times with family and friends. Non-lonely people enjoy themselves with other people.’
The conference also heard that it is not physical isolation in itself but the sense of isolation that is damaging. In other words, it is possible to feel lonely despite being married or surrounded by people.