Loneliness doesn't just cause wear and tear on the psyche — it may also affect blood pressure.
University of Chicago researchers surveyed 229 people ages 50 to 68 who were part of the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study, a multi-year study of white, black and Latino men and women. Participants were asked to rate their feelings about statements such as "I lack companionship," "I feel in tune with the people around me" and "My social relationships are superficial." Other features about the participants were noted, such as smoking status, physical activity levels, body mass index and cardiovascular health.
The participants were monitored for five years. People who ranked as feeling most lonely had blood pressure levels 14.4 points higher than those who felt the least lonely. Increases in systolic blood pressure were cumulative, so those who had higher levels of loneliness at the beginning of the study had greater blood pressure increases over the years.
The findings held true when researchers accounted for factors such as age, race and ethnicity, gender, cardiovascular risk factors and depression.
The study appears in the March issue of the journal Psychology and Aging.