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The importance of staying connected to your friends, family and community
Feeling lonely is a normal human emotion. But, when you feel like this for long periods of time, it isn’t just unpleasant – it’s actually bad for your health.
A large body of research shows that a poor social network is just as likely to send people to an early grave as smoking or alcohol abuse.
A scientific review of studies involving more than 300,000 people found that those with adequate social relationships were 50% more likely to live longer after an average follow-up period of nearly eight years, compared to more socially isolated people.
Being socially disconnected was found to do as much damage to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It was also worse for your health than avoiding exercise, and twice as bad as being obese.
The scientists said having a thriving social network of friends and family makes you healthier because the support of other people reduces the harmful effects of stress.
Scientists also believe that the influence of others may encourage behaviour that contributes to good health, such as laughter, feeling happy and being more active.
When you are connected to a group and feel responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning encourages you to take better care of yourself and take fewer risks.
Eight out of 10 Australians say loneliness is increasing. And this is particularly likely as people get older - but it’s important to remember that loneliness is not an inevitable part of ageing. If you are feeling lonely or cut off from the community, there are lots of things you can do.
A good starting point is to think about all the ways you have of connecting to other people.
Start by asking yourself:
Next, think about where you’d most like to be more connected. Choose one and make a plan. Start with something small and manageable, like:
Having someone to talk to is important. Older people who remain connected with others and have strong relationships are:
You don’t have to be lonely. Research shows that people who make small, positive steps to reconnect with their community end up happier and healthier. So, don’t be put off if you hit a hurdle. Reach out to your family or neighbours for help. Or, if transport is an issue, Silver Chain volunteers can drive you or help you get to where you want to go.
You might also like: 7 ways to keep your mind active as you age