Andrea Cagan awoke on her fiftieth birthday as lonely as she’d ever been. She wanted a man, but none were calling. So Cagan, a glowing ex-ballerina, decided to concentrate on her female friends.
She now speaks daily long-distance on the phone with her BGF. “We don’t lie in bed and hug or kiss like a romantic couple (I’m not a lesbian and neither is she), but we giggle and love each other and it fills me up,” she writes in “Sixty and Single,” one of two dozen essays in the just-published collection, "Live and Let Love: Notes from Extraordinary Women on the Layers, The Laughter, and the Litter of Love," edited by Andrea Buchanan.
“Listen up, ladies. I am single and happy,” says Cagan. Scientists agree: Her wellbeing doesn’t depend on a mate. And in fact, chatting can save your life.
Loneliness is Deadly. Friends, family, neighbors and colleagues increase our longevity. Researchers at Brigham Young University studied a sample of healthy adults over a 7.5-year period and reported that those with meaningful relationships had a 50 percent higher survival rate. They also found that isolation is about as dangerous as alcoholism or smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.
If you must choose, see friends over trips to the gym. Having few or insufficient social relationships may be as or more harmful than other serious health problems, including obesity. That conclusion came from a review that compared all-cause mortality rates against the social habits of more than 300,000 people in 148 studies, and is possibly a “conservative estimate,” underestimating the true impact, writes lead author Julianne Holt-Lunstad.
Loneliness depletes the body in a process akin to “premature aging,” University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo wrote in his groundbreaking 2008 book, "Loneliness." Cacioppo outfitted people with beepers that chirped throughout the day, prompting them to answer questions related to loneliness—while biosensors at their hips measured their cardiovascular status. He tested both college students and a group of people ranging in age from about 50 to 70, who participated over five years. Lonely people in both age groups rated their stresses as more severe and had poorer social interactions.
In a separate study of older adults, the lonely ones showed higher traces of stress hormones, as well as long-term changes in the circulation of cortisol, the body’s stress regulator.
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