Being physically healthy goes beyond eating well and staying active — it includes connecting with others, too. Even though technology gives us more ways to connect than ever, a recent global study found that loneliness is a growing health issue among people of all ages.
While this presents concerns for our mental health, it can also negatively affect our physical health. Did you know people who are socially isolated are more likely to develop dementia and heart failure? Let’s look at some things that contribute to loneliness and social isolation and how we can create connections to improve well-being.
What is social isolation?
Loneliness is an upsetting feeling of being alone, while social isolation is a lack of regular social interactions, which can lead to a feeling of loneliness. Often, people who are socially isolated get too little exercise, drink too much alcohol, smoke, and don’t sleep well. Feeling lonely may also increase stress in the body and cause physical and emotional pain.
Who is at risk of social isolation?
Loneliness can turn into a serious condition for anybody, but those who live alone, have a chronic disease, or have lost a loved one are at an increased risk of social isolation. More than 14 million seniors in the United States live alone. Not everyone who lives alone experiences loneliness or social isolation, but it’s easier for them to eventually lose contact with others.
Wintertime is also another contributing factor to social isolation. When the weather gets cold and the days are shorter, many people prefer to stay indoors all day, even if they live alone. This can worsen seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that develops during the colder months when there is less light.
How can you find support?
There are plenty of ways to prevent social isolation, like getting in touch with friends or family members. Even a quick phone call can make a big difference. Picking up a new or old hobby is also a great way to make new friends with similar interests. Older adults in New Jersey have many resources, like local senior centers and organizations such as New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well.
If you have older adults in your life who may be socially isolated, reach out to them, offer to keep them company, or encourage them to get outside and be active.
Don’t forget that taking care of yourself is the most important part of your overall health journey. Despite the cold weather, try to get outside for fresh air as often as possible. Keep up with healthy eating habits, exercise daily, and make the effort to nourish your relationships.