Alone Again Naturally

Nobody likes the feeling of being lonely. And while we think of ‘loneliness’ as an emotional thing, it turns out it isn’t any good for us physically either. In fact, it may be worse for your health than being obese.

Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that a lack of social contact can not only weaken our immunity but it can push our blood pressure into the danger zone. They tested men and women over the age of 50 and found that their CTRA genes which are part of the immune system are more active in people who felt very lonely. Those genes suppress the immune system leaving the lonely less able to fight of viruses and more susceptible to inflammation.

It seems loneliness begets loneliness. Being lonely doesn’t just lead to more CTRA genes, having more CTRA genes leads people to feel lonelier. It might be that the onset of ill health further isolates people, the researcher aren’t sure. But as we watch our population aging, we need to come up with strategies for keeping people connected so that loneliness — and all it’s accompanying ailments — doesn’t become an epidemic.

To stop that sense of isolation and the accompanying feelings of loneliness people really need to make an effort to connect with others: join a group of like minded people to share what you are reading, to garden or to take a walk. Find a local organization that needs volunteers and get out. Coach a children’s sport, read to the blind, get busy. And at the very least get a pet; fur babies help offset loneliness too.

If you haven’t watched this TED talk, I encourage you to. Here’s the intro to it: What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

3 Responses to “Alone Again Naturally”

  1. Thanks for pointing me to that Ted Talk. I have just watched and shared it on Facebook. What a great study.

  2. Thank you for sharing today. I watched the TED Talk recently. I have been seeking connections, especially as a divorcee. And yes, fur babies help.

  3. My mom suffers from various physical and mental health issues and isolates herself in her home and refuses to go out (besides to the dr), exercise, join a group or volunteer, meet up with friends or family or just get out and do something, anything. I agree that if she got out and had some purpose to her days that this would improve her health and mental issues and mindset. I’ve been suggesting things forever and ask her to visit me all the time (as I have two small kids so it’s harder for me to visit her) but it’s so hard to get someone out of the loneliness state of they are unwilling. But I keep trying …

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