“Being alone, or feeling like you are alone, probably increases the risk for many diseases by about 30 percent,” according to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. Research published in the journal Heart found that people who are isolated or feel lonely have a significantly higher heart disease risk compared to those who felt well connected. But, if you are feeling lonely now, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to get support and possibly lower your risk.

Isolation and heart disease

Researchers gathered data from 23 different studies that encompassed 180,000 adults. The studies assessed levels of isolation and loneliness. After between three and 21 years, researchers followed up to see if participants had developed heart disease. Those who reported feeling lonely had a 29 percent higher risk of heart disease and a 32 percent higher risk of stroke. Loneliness was associated with not only heart disease, but also high blood pressure, being overweight, cognitive decline, and even an increased risk to die at a young age.

It’s unclear why loneliness would be linked to such heightened risks, but some researchers suspect it might have to do with factors such as having a poor diet, not exercising, insufficient sleep, or being less likely to take prescribed medicine and stay up to date on doctor visits because the person does not have another person holding them accountable.

Developing a support system

If you are reading this, you are here on Heart Connect, so you’ve already taken a positive step toward developing a support system. It might not be easy to meet others in your day-to-day life who understand your situation, but other people on Heart Connect live with a chronic condition, so they understand how it can affect your life. Starting by reaching out to others and developing a support system in online forums can be less intimidating for some than a support group that meets in person.

If you want to learn how to meet people who can support you, try talking to a therapist about how to improve your social skills. A therapist may also connect you with a group therapy program where you can meet other people in your same situation. If you feel outgoing, you might also look for volunteer opportunities or social programs that help connect you to other people in your community.

Nobody wants to hear that on top of being lonely, they are also more likely to develop heart disease. Find support from people online or in your community who encourage you to take care of yourself and live your best life.

How did you develop your support system? Share with the community and connect with others in the comments below.