The Greatest Threat to Men’s Health? Loneliness

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Finding time for friendship is healthy, happy, and wise – and can add years to men’s lives.

Blame the wife. Blame the kids. Blame the job. Blame life. No matter who they blame, no matter what the real reasons are, men tend to isolate themselves as they grow older.

That high school bud? Haven’t seen him since I went away to college. My college roommate? He moved. My best man? Got married. Never goes out.

I stopped playing poker after I got married. I stopped playing golf when the kids were born. I stopped … having friends.

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Well, you feel like you are, but there are lots of men in exactly the same situation. Roughly one out of every five men over the age of 65 lives alone.

So, while it’s never too late to forge some friendships, there’s no time like the present to have some.

“Look at what your priorities are in life,” says Dr. Samir Sabbag, professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Miami Health System. “Young people sometimes sacrifice some parts of their life to be successful in others. But I think trying to have a good work-life balance is important.”

Not maintaining relationships is dangerous. Loneliness can kill you.

In fact, it does. Studies have shown that social isolation, loneliness, and living alone increased your odds of dying prematurely by an average of 29, 26, and 32 percent, respectively.

Yep, the long-term dangers of loneliness rank right up there with smoking. It’s been associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke — even the spread of cancer. Uh-huh. Tumors can metastasize faster in lonely folks.

lonelinessThe thing is, relationships take effort.

That goes for friendships, too. They involve planning. They involve extended stretches of time. They often involve groups. As time goes by, daily demands — work, kids, “I just want to watch some TV” — get in the way.

And then, someday, guys may look up and realize they’re lonely. It could be after they retire. After the kids go away to homes, and lives, of their own. After a divorce, or death.

So, says Dr. Sabbag, one of the best ways to avoid loneliness later is to start working on your relationships now.

“Having activities is important. Social encounters are something that definitely will decrease the possibility of you finding yourself alone. Nurturing the relationships you have – with your wife, with your children – that’s something important. Go out with your friends. That’s definitely something you want to do.”

It’s an investment that pays long-term dividends right away.


Carlos Harrison is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. He is a former national and international television correspondent, as well as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor.

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