Harvard Men's Health Watch

Loneliness has same risk as smoking for heart disease

In the Journals

lonely loneliness
Image: Liz Gregg/Thinkstock

To lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, you need to get out and meet people. Loneliness and social isolation were linked to an increase in both conditions, according to a review of studies published online April 18, 2016, by the journal Heart.

Researchers examined 23 studies that involved 181,000 adults. Among this group, 4,628 heart-related events—such as heart attacks, angina attacks, or even death—and approximately 3,000 strokes were recorded. The data showed that loneliness, social isolation, or both were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart attack and 32% greater risk of stroke. The risk was similar to that of light smoking or obesity, according to the researchers.

Loneliness has already been linked to weaker immune systems and high blood pressure, according to lead researcher Dr. Nicole Valtorta of the University of York in the United Kingdom. While this was an observational study, she says the findings suggest that having a stronger social network is beneficial for your well-being and health, and that maintaining existing relationships and forging new friendships could be an effective form of disease prevention.