Some people are happy living alone and others thrive on periods of alone time. Whether they are seniors left alone by death of a long-time partner, Baby Boomers who never married or young people trying to find themselves, more people are spending more time on their own. They may regularly Skype or telephone family and former work colleagues, have lots of Facebook “friends,” and keep pretty busy with hobbies and book clubs. But a new study shows that too much “me time” can lead to less time alive. The research specifically shows that too much loneliness or alone time is unhealthy and can ultimately kill by shortening one’s lifespan.
Whether a person feels alone, according to new research, is actually a predicator of prematurely death. Some even equate the impact of loneliness on health with obesity and cigarette smoking. While those health concerns have drawn a lot of attention in previous decades, the growing number of people living alone is a ticking time bomb shortening their futures, if the researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU)are right.
According to the BYU research team, the trend toward more alone time is dangerous. Their study looked at data from 70 different studies on loneliness, living alone and social isolation, involving more than 3 million people for their sample population. They found that loneliness and social isolation reduce a person’s life span, with an effect comparable to obesity. They noted in their write-up, in Perspectives on Psychological Science, that the health impact of loneliness could also be equated with smoking 15 cigarettes a day or excessive drinking of alcohol.
In tbeir meta analysis, the BYU team found living alone increased a person’s risk of death by 32 percent. Furthermore, social isolation increased it by 29 percent and loneliness by 26 percent. This was after they controlled the results for variables such as gender, age, socioeconomic status and any preexisting health conditions. These risk levels the team found put too much alone time in line with other well-established causes of death, such as obesity, substance abuse, mental health disorders, violence or injury.
Interestingly, the risks were greatest for people who are under 65 years old. That is not to say that loneliness and social isolation are not clearer indicators for early mortality in seniors. It was just that the researchers found the correlation between loneliness and early death to be greater for younger populations. To the researchers, this could be tied to the increasing disengagement in society today.
For example, a 2013 BYU study found that couples who text each other too much are less likely to be happy in their relationship. The researchers said there was a need to have important conversations face to face to maintain a connection.
The team who conducted the newer study noted the growing “evidence that social isolation and loneliness are increasing in society.” They believed that “social isolation and loneliness to lists of public health concerns.” They also indicated that the research on the risks that too much loneliness can kill is where the research on obesity was 30 years ago. Given how long it has taken for people to address obesity, they are concerned that the growing rates of solitary living in affluent countries and more people using electronic communication as their main way of connecting with other humans, meant that loneliness with reach epidemic proportions in little more than a decade.
By Dyanne Weiss