Obesity comes with a number of life threatening risks. The condition, for instance, is linked to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and even cancer. However, loneliness is a more threatening killer than obesity, at least among elderly people.
A study conducted by a group of researchers headed by John Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, which was presented during the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 16, has found that loneliness increases a person's risks of premature death.
For the study, researchers tracked more than 2,000 individuals who were at least 50 years old and found that the loneliest of the subjects were twice more likely to die than the least lonely during the six year study. The researchers also found that extreme loneliness increases an older person's risks of early death by 14 percent which means that loneliness has a double the impact on early death as obesity.
Cacioppo explained that chronic loneliness is associated with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which raises risks of strokes and heart attacks. It is also linked with high blood pressure and weakening of the body's immune system.
Cacioppo opined that loneliness has a negative impact on health because it prevents people from having deep and restful sleep at night. "As people age and lose mobility, they are at an increased risk of chronic loneliness, which would threaten the person's well-being almost immediately, and would increase their odds for depression, compromised immunity, and fatigue due to poorer quality sleep - all of which could hasten their ageing," Cacioppo said.
The researchers also observed that healthy relationships make people less lonely. "We find people who continue to interact with coworkers after retirement and have friends close by are less lonely...it it true throughout the world. I've done studies in Europe and China and we are not seeing any differences, regardless of where we look," Cacioppo said.
Cacioppo has likewise given suggestions on how the elderly people can avoid the consequences of loneliness and these include staying in touch with former co-workers, participating in family traditions and sharing good times with family and friends.
"We have mythic notions of retirement. We think that retirement means leaving friends and family and buying a place down in Florida where it is warm and living happily ever after. But that's probably not the best idea," Cacioppo said. "We find people who continue to interact with co-workers 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."