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Social interactions are vital for your health in body and mind

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Loneliness leaves you with a horrible feeling and has terrible ramifications for your health. You need to be socially active to be healthy.

It has been reported by the American Psychological Association that social isolation and loneliness may be a bigger public health threat than obesity. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, who is a professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, says that it is considered a fundamental human need to be connected to others socially.

It has been observed that infants who are in custodial care and who do not have meaningful human contact fail to thrive well and in fact often simply die. And social isolation or solitary confinement has traditionally been considered a form of severe punishment.

In spite of the understanding that being lonely is not healthy, there has been more people than ever in the United States who regularly experience isolation, according to Dr. Lunstad. A loneliness study by the American Psychological Association found that about 42.6 million adults who are older than 45 years old are suffering from chronic loneliness.

It has been shown in recent census data that greater than 25 percent of the people in the United States lives alone. And greater than 50 percent of the population is not married. Marriage rates and the number of kids in each home have been going down. Dr. Lunstad explains these facts have suggested that Americans overall are having the experience of more loneliness with less social connectedness in their lives.

Researchers have found that there are effects on mortality from social isolation, loneliness or living alone. All three of these factors have been found to have an equal effect on the risk of premature death. This effect actually was the same as or more than the effect of other well known risk factors on premature death such as obesity.

Dr. Lunstad has suggested that more emphasis could be placed on training children with social skills in schools. And doctors could be asked to include considerations of social connectedness in medical screening. Furthermore as people prepare for retirement they should consider their social needs as well as their financial needs. And community planners should make certain they include shared social spaces which encourage interaction, such as community gardens and recreation centers.

Psychology Today has reported on how dangerous loneliness can be. Psychologists say that people have a basic need for close relationships. We seem to function best in all realms of our lives when our social needs are met. And to the contrary people often fall apart mentally and physically when their social needs are not met.

Psychologist John Cacioppo, who is associated with of the University of Chicago, says loneliness sets off many pathophysiological processes. People develop with a need for social contact. The health consequences both mentally and physically can be very serious when we are lonely. Clearly we should understand our needs to be socially active throughout our lifetime.

Dr Harold Mandel

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