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Why loneliness is bad for your heart

Feeling lonely has inspired poets and songwriters for centuries, but the heartache of loneliness may be damaging in a way far more literal than they imagined.

A study of older adults by the University of Chicago found that loneliness boosted blood pressure by as much as 30 points—a spread that could mean the difference between a normal systolic reading of 110 mm Hg and a stage 1 hypertension reading of 140 mm Hg. In addition, loneliness’ effect on blood pressure became stronger with age and persisted even after accounting for other negative emotions like sadness, stress and anger.

The lonely-heart connection

Experts say several factors are behind how loneliness raises blood pressure. Compared to social folk, lonely people tend to have more unhealthy behaviors like smoking or eating poorly; perceive life’s everyday hassles and stresses as more severe; are more likely to feel anxious; and react and cope with stress differently. Instead of reaching out to others in times of need, lonely people—even ones who seem to have friends and family—may react defensively or display feelings of mistrust or hostility that doom social relationships.

Enhancing your social ties

Finding friends and strengthening relationships with others is more easily said than done, but you can try to form closer ties with people. Incorporate some of these measures into your social routine to help you interact with others:

  • Have coffee at a café or bookstore instead of at home.
  • Accept invitations to get-togethers.
  • Commit to regular lunch or coffee dates with friends or family members.
  • Join a club that shares your interests or hobbies or explore new activities.
  • Strengthen your spiritual affiliations.
  • Adopt a pet for personal companionship and to meet other pet owners.
  • Take a class at a local college or community center.
  • Volunteer for a favorite cause.