If you're over 50 - and lonely - you may need to watch your blood pressure. New research from the University of Chicago shows that, over time, a sense of loneliness can raise blood pressure, regardless of other risk factors including body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol use, race and income level. The researchers also looked at the effects of depression and stress on blood pressure and found that neither explained the increases seen over the course of four years in people who perceived themselves as lonely. A total of 229 individuals age 50 to 69 participated in the five-year study. They included whites, African Americans and Latinos who were part of a long-term study on aging. The blood pressure increase attributable to loneliness didn't show up until two years into the study and continued to increase until four years later, the researchers said. They reported that the loneliest people in the study registered blood pressure increases 14.4 millimeters of mercury higher than the blood pressure of the most socially contented participants. The study was published in the March, 2010, issue of Psychology and Aging.
My take? I'm not surprised at these findings. There is ample medical evidence that people who fail to establish meaningful connections have more illness. As a social species, we are not well equipped to live as isolated, separate beings. Health is wholeness, and wholeness implies connectedness - to family, friends, tribe, nation, humanity, the Earth, and whatever higher power you conceive of.