Social isolation and loneliness throughout life can significantly increase a person’s risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke – and with more people in America lonely than ever experts fear their could be a surge in these cases in the future.
A scientific statement published Thursday in the Journal of the American Heart Association states that social isolation and loneliness are linked to a 30 percent jump in heart disease and stroke risk.
While a lack of social interactions is linked with all kinds of health issues, it’s strongest link could be to cardiovascular problems. The added stress that could often come with isolation can add an unnecessary load to the body and cause harm.
Experts warn that two groups in particular are at risk. Elderly Americans – who through retirement and widowhood often end up alone – and generation Z, a group described as the loneliest generation ever. The long-term loneliness of Gen Z in particular poses significant future health concerns.
Experts warn that social isolation and loneliness can increase a person’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke later in life by around 30%. Surveys have found that Gen Z – the youngest American adults – are the most lonely (file photo)
‘Over four decades of research has clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes,’ Dr Crystal Wiley Cené, who chaired the writing of the statement and serves at the University of California, San Diego.
Experts write that social isolation is linked to an increase in all causes of death, with men being at an especially high risk.
Dr Crystal Wiley Cené (pictured) of the University of California, San Diego, said that the findings are ‘quite significant’ judging by how many Americans are suffering from loneliness
People who are lonely are more likely to suffer from chronic stress, one of the main factors that can impact heart health.
They explain that social isolation is also linked to increased levels of inflammation across the body – raising the risk of heart disease and stroke, among other health issues.
‘There is strong evidence linking social isolation and loneliness with increased risk of worse heart and brain health in general; however, the data on the association with certain outcomes, such as heart failure, dementia and cognitive impairment is sparse,’ Cené explained.
These data put two particular groups in general at high risk, both the adults and youngest parts of the US adult population.
Loneliness among the elderly is a well-documented phenomenon. Elderly people often do not have the ability or energy to take part in social events the way they could in their youth.
How Gen Z became America’s loneliest generation
Americans are lonelier than ever, and experts warn that it is actually the youngest generations feeling it the most
A UCLA study published in 2019 found that 43% of Americans feel lonely, and 27% feel that there are rarely or never people they meet that they connect with
The loneliness of each generation was scored by UCLA researchers, and they astonishingly found that Gen Z was the most socially isolated
Older generations actually reported being less lonely than their younger peers, a break from standard thinking
People who are lonely victims suffer worse overall heath – both physically and mentally
One of the most common causes of issues like depression and anxiety is loneliness
Experts also warn loneliness can put a person at an increased risk of some cardiovascular or neurological issues
Source: UCLA Loneliness Scale
Many close friends and family members will also have died over the years as well, causing them to lose connections. Younger family members generally grow up and enter their own lives away from their elders
Isolation among generation Z is a relatively new concept, though. Generally accepted as people born between 1997 and 2012 – it includes Americans currently aged nine to 25 years old.
It would be expected for people who fall into these age groups to have bustling, busy, social lives, but that has proven not to be the case.
The statement cites a Harvard report that finds Gen Z adults to be the ‘loneliest generation’ in America right now.
They point to increased social media use and less in-person engagement with their peers as reasons for the bizarre distinction.
‘Given the prevalence of social disconnectedness across the US, the public health impact is quite significant,’ Cené said.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely played a role as well. Closures of schools and many recreational activities have been blamed for a surge in mental health issues among the youngest of Americans in recent years.
Loneliness and social isolation are two of the leading causes of depression in particular, the statement reads.
Now that the issue has been raised by experts, Cené says it is time to respond with solutions:
‘There is an urgent need to develop, implement and evaluate programs and strategies to reduce the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular and brain health, particularly for at-risk populations.
‘Clinicians should ask patients about the frequency of their social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interactions with friends and family.
‘They should then be prepared to refer people who are socially isolated or lonely — especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke — to community resources to help them connect with others.’