One in Two Americans Feels Isolated and Alone — 5 Habits to Combat Loneliness
By Aislinn Kotifani, Blue Zones Communications Specialist
Social connectedness is ingrained into the world’s blue zones communities. The longest-lived people in the world tend to spend a great deal of time surrounded by strong social circles, whether it is for leisure or for labor. In places like Sardinia, there is a culture that encourages residents to finish their day in the local bar where they meet with friends and there is a support system that has the entire community pitching in for events and festivals like the annual grape harvest. Okinawans have moais, groups of people who stick together their whole lives, which were originally created out of financial necessity but have endured and evolved into mutual support networks. A recent study combines what we know about the blue zones inhabitants and new scientific evidence about how to combat loneliness.
As humans, we are social creatures. In the same way we find pleasure in eating or moving, we find fundamental satisfaction in socializing. But in today’s busy, hectic world, we have engineered many of the face-to-face connections out of our lives with things like 2-day shipping and grocery delivery services. This leads to more than a few problems.
According to the 32-year-long Framingham Heart Study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, your social network can play a massive role in your health. Researchers found that subjects were more likely to become obese when their friends became obese, and the same goes for smoking, drinking, and loneliness. “People are connected, and so their health is connected,” said researchers Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D.
“People are connected, and so their health is connected.”
A recent Cigna study found that nearly half of the 20,000 Americans who participated in their research sometimes or always feel alone (46%) or left out (47%). One in five participants reported that they rarely or never felt connected to people. While there are certainly behaviors that lead to loneliness, those who did not feel lonely shared five common lifestyle traits. These five commonalities are also some of the Power 9® lifestyle characteristics of the longest-lived people in the world. The key is to achieve balance when finding the right approach for these behaviors, as those who reported getting too little or too much of these activities had higher loneliness scores.
People from the blue zones typically sleep about 7-8 hours every night. The study found that those who slept “the right amount” have lower loneliness scores than those who sleep more or less than desired.
In Ikaria, Sardinia, and Nicoya, people find time to connect at daily happy hours or as they pass neighbors in the street on the way to the market. According to the recent study, people who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face.
Put Family First
Successful centenarians put their families first. They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love. People who reported spending the “right amount of time” with family were less likely to feel lonely and reported feeling as though they were part of a group and could find companionship when they needed it.
The blue zones centenarians don’t pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms but instead live in environments that constantly nudge them into activity almost every 20 minutes. They grow gardens, do manual house/yard work, and walk almost everywhere. The loneliness scores of those who exercised more or less than desired were higher than the scores of those who exercised the “right amount.” They reported feeling as though they were part of a group and had something in common with other people.
Working more or less than desired had a similar effect. Those who reported working the “right amount” found that they the least likely to be lonely.
The findings from this recent study emphasize the importance of social connections, community, and face-to-face interactions, which we have understood are ingrained in the lives of the blue zones inhabitants. People who are the least likely to be lonely are those who are in good overall mental and physical health, find time to downshift, move naturally, and have good relationships with their friends, families, and coworkers.
Sometimes, making friends can be difficult and stressful. If you find it hard to connect with people around you, try volunteering for a cause for which you care deeply. Volunteering is a long-term investment in your health and in your city if you sign up to do it regularly, and you’ll meet like-minded people along the way who will support and uplift you. You can also join the Blue Zones Life® community where you may find new friends that share your desire to live longer, better.