Well, maybe not kill you, but it can definitely negatively impact your health.

Last week, we reported on how loneliness can actually harm your health. We’ve long known how couples seem to enjoy a health advantage over those who are single. But those health advantages may diminish over time.

But just as obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking will eventually catch up to you, the authors of a new book suggest that loneliness is an often-overlooked risk factor for health issues:

Loneliness leads to higher rises in morning levels of the stress hormone cortisol, altered gene expression in immune cells, poorer immune function, higher blood pressure and an increased level of depression.

Loneliness also is related to difficulty getting a deep sleep and a faster progression of Alzheimer’s disease, said [one of the authors].

One of the founders of a new discipline called social neuroscience, Cacioppo used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans and advanced scientific techniques to document the roles of loneliness and social connection as central regulatory mechanisms in human physiology and behavior.

In just a few years’ time, 10% of Americans will live alone as our population ages and one spouse dies and as younger people hold off in marrying and having children. I won’t go so far as to suggest that loneliness could be a new epidemic (because most people who live alone are not necessarily lonely), but it should raise a warning flag if you’re a person who feels their chronic loneliness acutely.

Getting “stuck” in a feeling of loneliness can often lead to hopelessness and even depression. You don’t need to be in a relationship to keep loneliness at bay. Stay active with your friends (even if they’re online friends) and keep up with doing social activities in your local community too. Even the simplest activities can help. The key is to stay engaged (even if you don’t always feel like it).

So while chronic loneliness probably can’t kill you, it can certainly drag down your health and the rest of your life.

Read the full article: Loneliness Harms Health