One Is The Loneliness, and Maybe Deadliest, Number

By Alexandra Zendrian | Posted Jul 9, 2024

Harry Nilsson’s song “One” tells us that “one is the loneliest number.” But, according to a recent Harvard University study, it may also be the deadliest number, as now the concept of prolonged loneliness and increased stroke risk has been introduced.

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The study showed that for adults 50-years-old and over who are chronically lonely, their stroke risk could increase by as much as 56 percent. Those same adults who experienced situational loneliness though (family being out of town on vacation, etc) did not experience a similar heightened stroke risk.


The Background

This is not the first time that loneliness has been spotlighted for its troubling health impacts. The World Health Organization considers loneliness among the world’s most significant health concerns. The U.S. Surgeon General has said that the mortality implications of loneliness can be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 


The Impact of Loneliness

The Harvard University study was the first one to look at the association between loneliness and stroke risk. Previous medical studies have shown that loneliness increases a person’s cardiovascular disease risk.


When it comes to the difference between chronic loneliness and its situational counterpart and their impacts on our health, the Harvard study shows that prolonged periods of loneliness are particularly damaging to our health.


What Can We Do

This information can be a wake up call to nip this situation in the bud as much as possible. Maybe it’s time to try to get back in touch with that old friend from elementary school who always made you laugh. Perhaps looking for an opportunity to volunteer in your community at the local library, food pantry or place of worship would help you fill that need for connection.


If social media is your thing, try finding groups that have similar interests as you. Or maybe it’s time to restart a hobby you enjoyed when you were younger, or take a class in something you’d like to learn.


Pets have also been known to provide a sense of comfort and stave off loneliness.


You can also mention your loneliness to your doctor so they can monitor you for potential ramifications.