Being both a music lover and a cardiologist, I have to say that the Beatles certainly got it right when they sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” In fact, a new study confirms the critical role social relationships play in maintaining heart health.
Research published in the journal Heart concludes that loneliness and social isolation need to be considered as serious risk factors for stroke and heart disease. In this new study that collected data from 181,000 individuals, the researchers found that loneliness and social isolation were associated with a 29 percent increase in coronary heart disease and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke.
The significant heart health effects of loneliness and isolation found in this study suggest that they are as much of a heart disease risk factor as anxiety and a stressful job—and even more of a heart disease risk factor than both obesity and high blood pressure.
We’re All In This Together
When thinking about how important social connections are to life and health, I often recall the experience my wife Jan and I had back in 2011 when Hurricane Irene menaced the East Coast and threatened our New England home. While preparing for and riding out the storm, we strengthened many social ties.
For days we all talked over coffee cups and hedges about the impending storm. We shared hurricane preparedness pointers, cell phone numbers, and resources. The afternoon before, my wife cut the endangered hydrangea tree and passed out “Hurricane bouquets.” In that same spirit, one local restaurant losing refrigerators of food generously hosted a complimentary hurricane brunch cooked on propane stovetops after the worst of the storm passed through. We all walked over, checked in that everyone was doing all right, and shared storm stories.
One neighbor suggested a group lunch the day before the storm, and another gathered us up for a candlelit pot luck dinner during the power outage that followed. Our next door neighbor, who lives alone, was absolutely overjoyed to receive our three “D” batteries so she’d be assured of a light during the days we’d be out of power. The best part of what had been a stressful situation was coming together in community.
This all reminds me once again how vital human connectedness is to our spirit and our health. In fact, since Hurricane Irene I've also seen research conducted by sociology professor Eileen Bjornstrom of the University of Missouri. She found that people who trust their neighbors report better overall health. So, to quote another Beatles song, "Come together right now." Your heart health depends on it.
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