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Don't be lonely as you get older

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Loneliness isn't good for your health especially as you get older. There's plenty of evidence to show that having close connections with friends and family may help us stay healthier and live longer.

For many people in the UK that's not the case. Age UK estimates a million older people haven't spoken to anyone for a month and an estimated 5 million think of their TV as their main form of companionship.

The Campaign to End Loneliness warns that loneliness and isolation are as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and wants local authorities to do more to reduce and prevent loneliness in their areas.

It carried out a survey and found 1 in 5 people over the age of 60 who experience loneliness report having no-one to turn to.

The campaign wants better transport and technology support for older people as 41% of those surveyed said transport was a barrier to seeing people and more than half thought the internet can help prevent loneliness.

Evidence on health

Research shows that feeling lonely can impact on your physical and mental health. Friendships and social networks can reduce the risk of you developing diseases.

You have more chance of having high blood pressure if you are lonely according to one 2010 study.

Research suggests lonely people are more prone to depression and some studies suggest loneliness can increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

How to tackle loneliness

The good news is there are plenty of ways to reduce your feelings of loneliness and isolation and many organisations that can help.

Exercise

Taking exercise is good for your physical health, but also has knock on effects on your social life and mental health.

Joining a local gym or leisure centre will give you structure to your day and you'll meet new people and develop new friendships. Gyms, especially during the day are full of plenty of people in their 60s, 70s, and beyond. You'll be able to find classes specifically for your age group.

Charities and your local community health services will have details of their own fitness and exercise programmes to suit you. For example, AgeUK runs Fit for the Future classes and many areas hold exercise classes which focus on balance.

If you prefer to be outside to exercise and you are pretty mobile perhaps join a local walking group. They cater for all abilities and are a great way to chat with like-minded people as well as staying active.

When 73 year old Irene Connor moved to a different area to be near her daughter and family after the death of her husband, she joined a walking group in Buckinghamshire. "You can walk at your own pace and you can meet and chat with other people, which was invaluable to me as I didn't know anyone and had to start building friendships from scratch."

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