Experts have expressed alarm about the devastating impact of the epidemic of loneliness and isolation. A new report from the United States Surgeon General Advisory identifies loneliness as a massive public health threat impacting the physical and mental health of millions of people across the world. According to United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, the impact of loneliness is similar to that of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness levels are at an all-time high
In 2022 researchers asked people how close they felt to others emotionally. Just 39 percent of adults in the United States said they felt very connected to others, in France the number was 34 percent, in Brazil the number plummeted to a shocking 23 percent. Despite pandemic isolation requirements easing, and technology making connection easier than ever, feelings of loneliness are peaking all over the world.
Loneliness has long been an issue tied to older generations, but it’s increasingly evident they’re not the only people at risk. Recent research shows approximately half of US adults are experiencing loneliness, and some of the highest loneliness rates are among young adults. One study shows loneliness rates among young people escalated every year between 1976 and 2019. Young adults are now almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely than those aged over 65. Almost two-thirds of college students report feeling lonely, a striking statistic considering these young people spend time in vibrant campus environments and often live in dorms with others.
The health implications of loneliness are extensive
Loneliness often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of sadness and increased risk of anxiety and depression. But that’s just the beginning. Loneliness can have a massive impact on physical health too. An analysis of 148 studies involving 300,000 people found that loneliness is associated with a 50 percent increase in mortality from any cause. Being lonely is linked to a 29 percent increase in heart disease risk, a 32 percent increase in stroke risk, plus a 50 percent increased risk of dementia in older adults. Lack of social connection may also increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness. Basically, whatever ailment an individual may be suffering, loneliness will make the suffering worse and recovery harder.
What can be done?
It’s clear that loneliness and isolation represent profound threats to our health and well-being, but as Dr. Murthy says, we all have the power to respond. “Each of us can start now, by taking small steps every day to strengthen our relationships, and by supporting community efforts to rebuild social connection.” He says there’s a stronger need than ever to work together to build lives and communities that are healthier and happier.
Simple actions to stop loneliness in your community
- Answer any call from a friend
- Perform acts of service
- Make time to share a meal with others
- Listen without distraction from your phone
- Smile and chat with others in your neighborhood
- Be open, authentic and willing to strengthen relationships
If you’re feeling lonely
Loneliness can feel stigmatizing, but it shouldn't. More than 60 percent of people are experiencing feelings of loneliness. If you’re feeling lonely:
- Call a friend
- Go outside for a walk in your neighborhood
- Practice gratitude and mindfulness
- Focus on self-care – good nutrition and physical activity
- Join a community group, like a book club or art class
- Join a gym, an exercise group or try group workouts
- Find support online (but balance it with real-life connection)
How group workouts can fuel happiness and eliminate loneliness
There is plenty of evidence that working out with others is a powerful way to create social connections and effectively reduce social isolation and loneliness. We also know that working out in a group works wonders for your motivation and you’re highly likely to stick with your new habits. And live exercise classes are not the only answer. Before the pandemic, Cedars-Sinai researchers were studying how live group exercise classes helped drive decreased loneliness and social isolation. When the pandemic hit and the live classes transitioned to virtual workouts, the researchers still identified a valuable social connection, even though the classes were online.
Fanny D from London regularly exercises at home using LES MILLS+ and says it really helps her mental health and eases feelings of anxiety and depression. “I sometimes feel lonely and down but when I take a class, even though I am still doing it on my own, I don't feel alone anymore. I feel like I am part of something bigger, all the advice and compliments go to my heart and empower me so much.”