Research shows clearly that we have a 50% increased likelihood of living longer if we have stronger social relationships. And with loneliness affecting all ages, it's time to see this as a societal problem not an age problem.

The Blue Zones (places around the world with impressive levels of healthy longevity) have proven that our health and happiness takes a village. 

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young Brigham Young University conducted a study with over 300,000 participants, to explore the relationship between human connection and longevity. What she found is only now getting the attention it deserves, saying "that loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard for all ages than obesity. And that this impact will continue to grow. Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need -- crucial to both well-being and survival."

Julianne Holt-Lunstad did a second study, involving 70 studies representing more than 3.4 million globally and examined the role that social isolation, loneliness or living alone might have on early death. What she found was that loneliness has the same as or greater effect on when we die when compared to other well-accepted risk factors such as obesity.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need -- crucial to both well-being and survival."

Julianne Holt-Lunstad

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young Brigham Young University

"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality," said Julianne. "With an increasing ageing population, the effect on public health is only anticipated to increase. Indeed, many nations around the world now suggest we are facing a 'loneliness epidemic.' The challenge we face now is what can be done about it."

In her recommendation, Julianne, argued for greater priority be placed on research and resources to tackle this very real health threat and this should be across all ages. For instance, Julianne suggests greater emphasis could be placed on social skills training for children in schools and doctors should be encouraged to include social connectedness in medical screening. Additionally, people should be preparing for retirement socially as well as financially, as many social ties are related to the workplace, she noted, adding that community planners should make sure to include shared social spaces that encourage gathering and interaction, such as recreation centres and community gardens.

And with loneliness and all age epidemic it is time to stop talking about lonely older people and start looking at solutions which work across the whole of our communities.

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