Avoid Social Isolation

Jul. 19, 2017 at 9:45am

Stress may be the single greatest contributor to illness in the industrialized world.  Indeed, it is estimated that 75% of all diseases and illnesses are stress related.  Of particular importance is the impact of stress on cardiovascular health and overweight/obesity.  On the surface level, stress produces direct, deleterious effects: it injures artery walls, raises blood pressure, elevates cholesterol, causes coronary inflammation, and causes coronary artery spasms that can lead to sudden cardiac death.  But stress also works on an indirect, insidious level to produce disastrous health consequences.  People under chronic stress often make poor lifestyle choices.  In trying to cope, they smoke, neglect exercise, eat too much and too often, make poor food choices and abuse alcohol and drugs.

Chronic stress is part and parcel of modern American society.  Indeed, 89% of Americans say they have too much stress in their lives.  A major consequence of chronic stress for many people is social isolation.  Once found almost exclusively in the elderly, social isolation now afflicts rising numbers of Americans of all ages. 

This is a health concern because numerous studies show higher cardiovascular death rates among people who are socially isolated.  One of the first studies to identify the importance of social networks in buffering the deleterious effects of heart disease involved a small town in eastern Pennsylvania called Roseto.  Health researchers were startled to find a strikingly lower death rate there than in neighboring towns.  From 1955 to 1961, Roseto had 157 cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 population, while three neighboring towns averaged over 600 cardiovascular deaths.  After careful analysis, researchers concluded that social support and close family ties were the primary reasons for Roseto’s lower rate.

Subsequent studies have supported the Roseto findings.  Today there is much consensus that the contribution of social isolation to morality is about the same as that of smoking or alcohol, and is greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

It is important, therefore, to create opportunities to link with family, friends and new acquaintances:

  • Organize a family reunion
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or library.
  • Join a walking group.
  • Take a trip with family or friends.
  • Connect with a nearby school to see about tutoring.
  • Coach a team.  Play on a team.
  • Host a family holiday.
  • Connect with people at church.
  • Participate in group activities such as playing bridge.
  • Connect with folks at church, arrange for weekly visits from their outreach committee.

Posted in Health Info by Joe

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