Loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

One in four Australians suffer from being lonely.

Loneliness has a bigger impact on your physical and mental health than you expect.

Despite being more connected to each other than ever before, loneliness continues to be detrimental to both our mental and physical health.

Over the years numerous studies have suggested the loneliness epidemic continues to worsen, with researchers discovering it is as lethal to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

And there’s good reason for this comparison.

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How does loneliness impact our health?

The feeling of being lonely has been linked to several health issues including poor sleep, high blood pressure, poor immune function, dementia and even premature death.

The loneliness epidemic and its health impacts has become such a concerning health issue that it’s captured the attention of thought leaders all over the world, including Noreena Hertz.

“The thing about loneliness is that we are all affected,” she recently said in an interview.

“We often think of loneliness as just being an old person’s plight - but the young are very lonely too.

“It’s something that we don’t talk about enough - just how lonely so many of us are.”

Most Australians will experience loneliness at some point in their lives, with one in 10 aged over 15-years-old saying they lack social support and one in two saying they feel lonely at least one day a week.

Research suggests that living alone and not being in a relationship have a big impact on a person’s feelings of loneliness. Social media also has a role to play.

“I would argue our smartphones are a big part of the problem because we’re together yet we’re alone,” says Noreena, who was once described as one of the world’s most inspiring women.

Can we prevent loneliness?

While the loneliness epidemic is bad for both our physical and mental wellbeing, there are things we can do about it.

Research has shown that companion animals can make a big difference to a person who suffers from loneliness. Around two-thirds of dog and cat owners reported ‘Companionship’ as a main reason for owning a pet.

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Joining social groups, volunteering and getting involved in community groups have also been found to help with feelings of loneliness.

There are also more unconventional services like ‘rent-a-friend’ businesses that have now become available purely to tackle loneliness.

But at the end of the day Noreena says it’s up to everyone to be kinder, smile more and be there for others.

“Reach out to the person who we know might be lonely, and don’t be worried if they push back,” she says.

“These are small things - but there is so much that each of us can do.

“Just smile more and say hello more.”

Watch Easy Ways to Live Well, Mondays at 8:30pm on LifeStyle.

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