Research Shows Association Between Isolation and Health Risks

photo of two women sitting in chairs talking
​There is more to heart health than exercise and a balanced diet. Regular social interaction with friends, family or acqaintances is an important part of staying connected to the community, and staying healthy. Photo by Joyce Huis on Unsplash. ​

How many social interactions does the average person experience every day? Whatever that number is, it is decreasing across the population. According to University of Tennessee Extension community health specialist Soghra Jarvandi, this trend spells bad news for heart health, and older adults are particularly at risk to be socially isolated.

“Social isolation increases the stress signals in the body, resulting in elevated blood pressure and accumulation of fatty deposits in the arteries. This poses a major and growing threat to the biophysical well-being of different age groups, especially seniors,” says Jarvandi. “Research indicates an association between loneliness and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, results from a new study conducted by AARP and Stanford University showed that Medicare, on average, spends $1,608 more per year for each older person with less social connection,” continues the UT Extension specialist.

Jarvandi adds that social isolation has never been more easily remedied, so there is hope, no matter how isolated someone feels.

Below Jarvandi lists a few ways that seniors can increase their social interactions and connectedness:

- Connect with friends and family on a regular basis, either through a face to face visit, a phone call or even a text message. Plan lunch out with a friend or relative to coincide with running errands or getting groceries.

- Exercise with others, rather than alone. Join a walking or hiking group at a local park, take a class at a nearby gym, or consider a Tai Chi class through your local county Extension office.

- Volunteer to support an important cause or group, or get involved with a church, temple, or other religious organization.

- Consider joining a senior group in the community, such as a Family and Community Education club, or a club organized through a local senior citizen center.

- Combine creativity with connection by joining a book club, taking an art class, joining a choir or band, starting a knitting or quilting group, staging a play with friends, or starting a themed-dining dinner club. The possibilities are endless.

- Consider auditing a class at a local college or taking a class related to a hobby.

“It’s important for seniors to realize that diet and exercise are not the only ways to stay healthy. Add friendship, social interaction and connection to any heart health regimen,” says Jarvandi.

For additional help and programs specifically relating to healthy choices, contact the family and consumer sciences agent at your local county Extension office. You can also visit the UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences website at

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Soghra Jarvandi, assistant professor, UT Extension Family and Consumer Sciences, 865-974-7328,