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Loneliness can Hurt your Health in 4 Ways

Update Date: Oct 30, 2014 04:11 PM EDT

Human beings are generally social animals. When people do not get enough social interaction, it can affect their physical and mental health. Here are four specific ways that loneliness can adversely impact your quality of life.

1. It can lead to depression

Feeling lonely and disconnected from other people can increase your risk of depression. According to a 2009 study conducted at Colorado State University, depressed participants benefited from experiencing positive interactions with others.

Bruce Rabin, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Healthy Lifestyle Program, explained, according to TIME, "When you're lonely, brain hormones associated with stress such as cortisol become active, which can cause depression. In fact, for mild and moderate depression social interaction is even more effective at alleviating symptoms than a prescription antidepressant."

2. It can lead to unhealthy habits

When you are lonely, you are also less likely to care for yourself properly. Researchers have found that older people who live alone tend to eat fewer vegetables and exercise less than people who live with a spouse or partner.

3. It can increase risk of heart disease

The combination of factors, such as eating unhealthily and leading a sedentary lifestyle, can increase your risk of heart disease. One study out of Harvard University found that middle-aged adults who lived by themselves had a 24 percent greater risk of dying of heart disease.

4. It can weaken your immune system

Loneliness can also weaken your immune system. Researchers from Ohio State University tied loneliness to higher levels of proteins linked to inflammation. Chronic inflammation can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and arthritis.

To combat loneliness, try volunteering, which can boost your spirits because it is a very self-rewarding activity.

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