This Condition Is Bad for Your Health But Treating It Doesn’t Cost a Thing

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When it comes to bettering our health, we usually look inward — whether that’s taking medication, eating healthier or getting enough exercise or sleep.

But to combat one major health threat, it may be beneficial to look outward — to our social circles.

Research presented at the 2017 convention of the American Psychological Association found that loneliness and social isolation may be bigger public health hazards than obesity and that those conditions are increasingly impacting human health.

Loneliness Isn’t to Be Taken Lightly

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, presented data at the convention from two meta-analyses that collectively represented more than 3.7 million individuals in 218 studies.

One concluded that having a greater social connection is linked to a 50% reduction in the risk of early death.

The other found loneliness, social isolation and living alone each had significant effects on the risk of premature death similar to or greater than the effects other risk factors — like obesity — have on premature death.

“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival,” Holt-Lunstad said. “Yet an increasing portion of the U.S. population now experiences isolation regularly.”

An Inexpensive Fix

The good news is that loneliness and social isolation are conditions that can often be prevented or easily resolved at a low cost.

On a broad scale, Holt-Lunstad said doctors should screen for social connectedness, schools should place a greater emphasis on social-skills training and community planners should make sure to include shared spaces in development plans.

On a more personal level, she recommended that people planning for retirement should prepare for social changes at that stage in life, in addition to financial changes, since many social ties are connected to the workplace.

Participating in activities at your local community center, taking classes hosted by your local library or volunteering in your community are a few options to reduce loneliness and make social connections.

And since our mission at The Penny Hoarder is to put more money in our readers’ pockets, here are some options to expand your social circle and earn (or save) a little cash:

  1. Rent out a room in your house, long-term. (The new app Nesterly pairs senior homeowners with twentysomething renters who perform household chores in exchange for lower rent.)
  1. Rent out space in your home on a temporary basis. Airbnb is a popular option — here are some tips to get started. (You don’t even need a spare room. Check out this post. And this one!)
  1. Share a home with friends and split living costs or try communal living.
  1. Rent out your services as a people walker (yes, you read that right), like the first guy in this post did.
  1. Become a babysitter. Yes, your social circle would be filled with little kids, but they do wonders at chasing away loneliness.
  1. Be a professional bridesmaid. Being part of the one of the biggest days in a woman’s life could forge a bond that continues long after the “I dos” are said.
  1. Rent out your friendship via RentAFriend. Because everyone needs a little companionship now and again.

Friendships and social connections enrich life (no pun intended). You don’t have to go at it alone.

Nicole Dow is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.