How loneliness affects ageing well
Loneliness can be a huge problem for some especially after retirement when we can lose touch with friends and work colleagues. It is a huge adjustment from working full time surrounded by people to days that perhaps have no social connection or purpose.
Staying connected is a huge factor in ageing well and living a fulfilled and contented life. It is a conundrum because I know myself that I value time alone but that is totally different to being lonely. Taking time out for ourselves and our own needs and desires is important for our health and well being. However, isolation and loneliness is detrimental to ageing well.
Donna has found some sobering results of studies and also provides us with ways we can avoid becoming too isolated. Don’t forget to connect with the lovely Donna through her website and social media links at the end of this post.
Never Let Yourself Get Too Lonely
I’m a recovering research nerd. Still, when Sue asked if I would write a Guest Post on Positive Aging for her Ageing Well in August series, I headed straight to the results of recent studies (just as I had done when previously researching this topic earlier in my retirement).
Again, I found often-espoused tips that are commonly associated with healthy aging and longevity (think: diet, exercise, and stress reduction). Most significantly, I once again found rigorous longitudinal studies that have identified loneliness and social isolation as the single most detrimental factor against longevity and aging well. Researchers have linked loneliness to a wide range of devastating illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
So, what can we do about it?
Studies from Blue Zones (where residents typically live far past the average life expectancy) suggest that close family relationships, intersecting daily with other community members, laughing regularly with friends, and celebrating elders, are significant contributors to the longevity of residents.
Adding to this, researchers from Indiana and Harvard Universities studied 8,000 older adults. They overwhelmingly found that those who volunteered aged better (including having fewer hospital stays) than those who didn’t.
Back to the Blue Zone Studies: In Sardinia, research suggests that a lean, plant-based diet, walking five or more miles a day, a daily glass of red wine and regularly drinking goat’s milk may also add to the long life of villagers. On top of this, genetics were factored in as contributing up to 25% of life expectancy. This reinforces the concept that a variety of factors come into play regarding our mortality. However, when contributing factors were studied in isolation, loneliness repeatedly topped the list as having the most impact on health, well-being, and life span. No longer can social isolation be overlooked or downplayed.
Going forward, researchers and psychologists suggest: Increase your awareness, create a plan, build a support system (for yourself as well as for friends and family).
Reach out, get out of the house, put down your devices (research does not support longevity benefits from texting others!). Nurture your friendships and strive to increase your face-to-face conversations. Even the smallest steps in this direction are significant steps toward positive aging! (Source, Source)
Donna lived and worked in Beijing, China for fourteen years. Leaving international life behind, she and her husband retired to Vancouver Island, Canada, in June 2015. To document this transition, Donna initiated ‘Retirement Reflections’. Her favourite part of blogging is the interaction with others. Read more About Donna here You can connect with her in the comment section below, or via the following social media sites. She would love to hear from you.