Exercising, eating healthy and avoiding stress are some of the key prescriptions to living a long, healthy life.

Researchers at Brigham Young University also recommend plenty of social interaction to stay physically and mentally fit. According to the recent study published in the journal of Perspective on Psychological Science, loneliness can be just as dangerous to your health as being overweight or smoking up to 15 cigarettes every day.

Scientists are finding that social engagement is hard-wired into our genes and can affect everything from our immune systems to stress hormones and even sleep patterns.

Data from around 3 million participants found that, on average, loneliness, isolation and living on your own can increase the risk of premature death by 26, 29 and 32 percent.

Why So Lonely?

Loneliness is an increasing problem in modern life. Not only are more people living alone now than at any other time in history, but the wealth of Internet-based data allows people to socialize from their computers and smartphones making it far too easy to be isolated and detached.

Researchers suggest we’re moving away from establishing and maintaining real-life connections with people and loneliness could become a serious public health issue in the coming years.

The notion that social isolation and loneliness strictly affects the elderly who may be socially lonely due to decreased mobility and loss of friends and partners is false. BYU researchers reported that the risk of premature death is actually greater among younger people (under age 65).

That’s because loneliness is about the quality rather than the quantity of social interaction. So while someone may seemingly have a lot of friends, their need for quality social contact are not met.




Beating Loneliness

Just as eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise improves your health, working on increasing friendships and making meaningful connections can help you stay both mentally and physically healthy.

Don’t isolate yourself: An isolated space is the perfect breeding ground for negative, self-critical thoughts and encourages you to remain in a lonely state, according to PsychAlive.org. Instead, volunteering is a great exercise in thinking outside of yourself and often gives you the opportunity to connect with new people.

Keep busy: Join a group that share similar interests and participate in activities that are meaningful to you.

Meet up with friends: Keeping in touch with friends online is good, but the superficiality of some online connections may not be enough to provide the emotional depth one might need. The right balance is not to let online interactions replace offline interactions. To strengthen your existing relationships and make new, more meaningful ones, see friends and family in-person.

A lifestyle rich in fruits, vegetables, physical exercise, friends and family can also help you achieve optimum health.

When you embrace an overall healthy and happy lifestyle, you have a much greater chance of reducing costly health care and doctor visits. In turn, a higher physical and psychological well-being and can help you improve your wealth accumulating goals.

You can determine your level of loneliness by using the UCLA Loneliness Scale available online: http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/loneliness.htm.