You already know that slacking on your gym routine and eating tons of junk food is bad for your health. But you probably haven’t put a lot of thought into how your social life—or lack thereof—weighs in.
According to a new study published in the journal Heart, loneliness, which is defined for scientific purposes as a negative feeling people get when they’re unhappy about their relationships, actually has a big impact on your body.
A research team from the University of York in the United Kingdom reviewed tons of scientific literature from 23 existing studies and they found a much bigger link between your social life and health than was expected. Among otherwise healthy people, being lonely increased risk of coronary heart disease by 29 percent and risk of stroke by 32 percent. That makes a sorry social life as much as a risk factor as serious stressors like anxiety and intense stress at the office.
According to the researchers, loneliness has such a serious impact for three reasons. First, it screws with your normally active lifestyle. Feeling isolated ups your chances of skipping the gym, taking up smoking, and not seeing your doctor regularly. The second impact is purely physical: Loneliness impacts your immune system and makes you less able to deal with stress when it does come your way. And thirdly, being lonely is just simply depressing, which we already know has serious health effects.
The findings are just all the more reason to get a gym buddy or join a training team. If you can make an already active lifestyle more social, it’s a win-win.