Loneliness, and resulting conditions like anxiety and depression, can be harmful to both your mental and physical health. New research has found feelings of isolation can impact our bodies, increasing the chances of chronic inflammation, so it's important to address not just the symptoms, but the root cause of the issue too.
Inflammation, what happens when parts of the body becomes red and inflamed, is a natural response to injury or infection and part of the body's healing process. Think of the redness and soreness when you get a cut or scrape. However, chronic inflammation occurs when the inflammation does not subside, and can be a result of arthritis, poor joint health (check out our best supplements for joints for more on this) or even internal issues such as poor gut and heart health.
Chronic inflammation has been associated to cancer, heart disease and more, so it's a worrying sign that loneliness has been linked to chronic inflammation by a study published in the British Medical Journal (opens in new tab). The researchers found a strong association between "years lived alone or accumulated number of partnership breakups and low-grade inflammation" for middle-aged men. Surprisingly, women who took part in the study weren't affected.
Other research from Harvard University (opens in new tab) found that men with close relationships in their lives, whether that's romantic, fraternal or community-based, were happier than people who forged on alone. We're a social species, and the research on happiness and loneliness seems to reflect this.
So it's one thing to say that spending too much time alone can be harmful to our health. But in the midst of a global pandemic, it's very hard to get out there and forge new relationships, especially for men looking for friends as well as romantic companionship. Advice like taking up meditation to improve mental health, although a useful tool, won't address the crux of the problem.
We'll need to address the problem from both ends. First, reducing your risk of chronic inflammation is the easy bit. Plenty of anti-inflammatories such as catechins (green tea and chilli are excellent sources) along with Omega-3 from the best fish oil supplements can help, as can avoiding processed meats and junk food.
Stretching, according to another Harvard study (opens in new tab), is an additional way to lower your risk of chronic inflammation. Jumping on one of our best yoga mats could also ease the pressure on your body.
On the other end is the problem of loneliness, anxiety and depression, something which a 400-word article can't fix overnight. But talking about your problems and how you're feeling can help. In the UK, you can call or email Samaritans (opens in new tab) for non-judgemental listening. Joining classes, sports teams, reaching out to friends to meet up for a coffee or talking to family members on the phone can all begin to bridge the gap in between.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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