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  1. All, Loneliness and social support are things we don't talk about much around here and (speaking for myself) are things we may not pay enough attention to in general, both for their direct impact on quality of life (i.e. social engagements are an important part of what makes life worth living for many people), and for their instrumental benefits (i.e. loneliness and one's social network size seem to have a pretty dramatic impact on longevity). Regarding this second, instrumental benefit of a strong social network on longevity, I found that there are several recent studies similar to [1]. It followed 600 men and women who were 70+ at baseline for 18 years, measuring at several time points their self-reported loneliness (i.e. how frequently a person feels lonely) and their social network, which was characterized as follows: ocial networks were measured by using four separate indicators including: marital status (married = 1, unmarried = 0), number of children, contact frequency with children and with friends, with scores ranging from 0 (do not meet at all) to 4 (almost everyday), and household size (number of people residing with the respondent). What they found regarding self-reported loneliness was: Mortality was higher among lonely men compared to those who were not lonely (46.9% and 34.3%, respectively) and among lonely women (58% and 48.4%, respectively). Here are the four survival curves for lonely/not-lonely men/women over the 18 years of followup from the full text: As you can see, women outlived men (no surprise) and both lonely men and women died significantly sooner than their not-lonely peers. Regarding the impact of one's social network on mortality, they found: [T]he variables that were found to significantly predict mortality among men were health status (self-rated health and co-morbidity), functional status (ADL), and social variables (marital status and size of household), suggesting that mortality was higher among those who were in poorer health and impaired functional status, were unmarried, and lived in smaller households. Among women only economic status was found to significantly predict mortality, suggesting that mortality was higher among poorer women. In short, for men in particular, a feeling of loneliness, being unmarried and living alone appear to be predictors of early mortality. These results raise two questions in my mind: 1) How and to what extent does the practice of CR impact one's social network and feeling of loneliness? Given that some of us eat strict and unusual diets, and eat at unusual times/intervals, it seems pretty plausible that this could (and in fact does, in my case) serve to isolate us to some degree from family and friends, who typically don't follow the same dietary habits. Eating together serves such an important social function in all cultures, it would seem almost inevitable that eating differently will impact one's relationship with others. Such an increase in social isolation could lead to loneliness, and the possibility of increased mortality - perhaps even negating the longevity benefits of CR. On the flip side, I'm pretty convinced from personal experience that CR can contribute to increased psychological resilience and a sense of well-being, which could counterbalance the negative influence of increased social isolation and reduce one's sense of loneliness. 2) To what extent can 'virtual' social networks, like connecting with other CR practitioners on this forum, make up for lack of direct social contact and reduce feelings of loneliness. Over the years I've found engaging with other folks from the CR Society through these forums and before that the CR mailing list, to be quite psychologically rewarding, producing a feeling of camaraderie,social connectedness, and a sense of being helpful to others, that would seem to me to be potentially beneficial substitute for direct face-to-face social connects. But I've never really been a very social person (e.g. I've always felt uncomfortable at parties), and so may be somewhat biased in this regard. I'd be interested in engaging with others on this topic and hearing what you think the net impact CR has had on your social network and feelings of loneliness vs. connectedness. --Dean Note: I debated whether to post this to "General Health & Longevity" or "CR Practice". I'm starting it in General Health & Longevity, since in general loneliness had nothing directly to do with CR. But I'm hoping others will engage in a discussion of how CR impacts one's social life and feeling of loneliness, in which case I'll move the thread to "CR Practice". ----------- [1] Int J Aging Hum Dev. 2011;72(3):243-63. Loneliness, social networks, and mortality: 18 years of follow-up. Iecovich E(1), Jacobs JM, Stessman J. Full Text via Sci-hub.io: http://ahd.sagepub.com.sci-hub.io/content/72/3/243.short We examined the influence of changes in loneliness and social support networks upon mortality during 18 years of follow-up among an elderly cohort and determined the gender-specific nature of this relationship. The study is based on data collected from the Jerusalem Longitudinal Study (1990-2008), which has followed a representative sample of 605 community-dwelling elderly people. Subjects were randomly selected from an age homogenous cohort born 1920-1921 and were aged 70, 78, and 85 when data were collected at baseline in 1990 and at follow-up in 1998 and 2005. All-cause mortality from age 70-88 was determined according to the National Death Registry. Sense of loneliness was found to be stable among the majority of the respondents. Loneliness among men was found in bivariate analyses to be a risk factor for mortality. Although multivariate analyses found that loneliness was not a significant predictor of mortality, nonetheless several social network factors (marital status at the baseline and living arrangements) were found to predict mortality among men. Loneliness and solitude among elderly men can be a risk factor of mortality. The findings imply that attention should be given to this high risk group. PMID: 21834390
  2. All, Over on the loneliness thread we've discussed how loneliness (or perhaps even simply living alone) can increase mortality (PMID 21834390). And as Zeta pointed out in this post about this article, loneliness can aggravate chronic viral infections, which in turn are associated with more rapid cognitive decline, as discussed in this post about PMID 26710257. So besides practicing CR, which at least in some of us seems to promote psychological resilience and a sense of "calm abiding", what can we do to avoid the apparent negative effects (esp. inflammation) resulting from loneliness, and stress/anxiety in general? This new study [1] (popular press article) from CMU1 researchers, and some of the papers it cites (see below) suggest a solution, namely mindfulness meditation, a practice I find quite helpful, as discussed here. Study [1] was a randomized control trial comparing the effects of 3-days of mindfulness training vs. relaxation training in 35 stressed and unemployed job seekers. Using FMRI brain imaging, they found that mindfulness training (vs. relaxation training) positively influenced activity in both the default mode network (the network of areas in the brain that becomes active when we aren't engaged in deliberate thought - e.g. when ruminating) and in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in executive function. But most importantly for this topic, they found that four months after the intervention, those in the mindfulness meditation group had reduced levels of an important marker of inflammation, interleukin-6, relative to the relaxation training group. This effect was independent of whether during the intervening 4 months the subjects found a job or not, which half of the subjects in each group in fact did. Some of the interesting commentary on the research expressed by the authors in the popular press article : The researchers concluded that the changes in functional brain connectivity resulting from the mindfulness program seemed to help the brain manage stress (a known inflammation trigger), and therefore is responsible for the reduced levels of inflammation. Why does it seem to be more beneficial than mere relaxation for managing stress? [Lead researcher] Creswell suggests that mindfulness may have a more lasting impact. "Mindfulness meditation teaches participants how to be more open and attentive to their experiences, even difficult ones," Creswell said. "By contrast, relaxation approaches are good in the moment for making the body feel relaxed, but ... [they're] harder to translate when you are dealing with difficult stressors in your daily life." In the full text of the paper, the authors point to a number of other recent studies [2-5] that have found mindfulness meditation reduces both stress and inflammatory markers in the elderly, people experiencing job stress, as well as cancer patients and caregivers. Study [2] by this same group of researchers is particularly germane for this topic, since it investigated the effects of mindfulness meditation on feelings of loneliness and inflammation in elderly subjects. People who did 8 weeks of once-per-week mindfulness classes reported reduced loneliness and exhibited a decrease in pro-inflammatory gene expression relative to a control group from the waiting list for the mindfulness training. I resonated with this quote from the introduction of [2]: “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It's restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle [through meditation practice], we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down” -- Pema Chodron (2000), Buddhist nun and teacher These were small studies and not without some shortcomings - e.g. the mindfulness training classes themselves might have reduced loneliness in [2]. But they are nonetheless suggestive evidence that practicing mindfulness meditation can help one deal with the negative effects of loneliness and stress in general. --Dean ----------- 1CMU is my alma mater and is located in Pittsburgh. Those Pittsburgh scientists are really churning out interesting research! -------------- [1] Biological Psychiatry, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008 Alterations in resting state functional connectivity link mindfulness meditation with reduced interleukin-6: a randomized controlled trial, J. David Creswell PhD, Adrienne A. Taren MD, Emily K. Lindsay MA, Carol M. Greco PhD, Peter J. Gianaros PhD, April Fairgrieve BS, Anna L. Marsland PhD, Kirk Warren Brown PhD, Baldwin M. Way PhD, Rhonda K. Rosen LCSW, Jennifer L. Ferris MA Full text: http://dx.doi.org.sci-hub.io/10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.01.008 Abstract Background Mindfulness meditation training interventions have been shown to improve markers of health, but the underlying neurobiological mechanisms are not known. Building on initial cross-sectional research showing that mindfulness meditation may increase default mode network (DMN) resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) with regions important in top-down executive control (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dlPFC), here we test whether mindfulness meditation training increases DMN-dlPFC rsFC, and whether these rsFC alterations prospectively explain improvements in interleukin-6 (IL-6) in a randomized controlled trial. Method Stressed job-seeking unemployed community adults (N=35) were randomized to either a 3-day intensive residential mindfulness meditation or relaxation training program. Participants completed a five-minute resting state scan before and after the intervention program. Participants also provided blood samples at pre-intervention and at 4-month follow-up, which were assayed for circulating IL-6, a biomarker of systemic inflammation. Results We tested for alterations in DMN rsFC using a posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) seed-based analysis, and found that mindfulness meditation training, and not relaxation training, increased PCC rsFC with left dlPFC (p<.05, corrected). These pre-post training alterations in PCC-dlPFC rsFC statistically mediated mindfulness meditation training improvements in IL-6 at 4-month follow-up. Specifically, these alterations in rsFC statistically explained 30% of the overall mindfulness meditation training effects on IL-6 at follow-up. Conclusions These findings provide the first evidence that mindfulness meditation training functionally couples the DMN with a region known to be important in top-down executive control at rest (left dlPFC), which in turn is associated with improvements in a marker of inflammatory disease risk. Trial Registration The RCT is registered on clinicaltrials.gov (#NCT01628809) Key words: mindfulness meditation, functional connectivity, IL-6, unemployment, fMRI, stress ---------------- [2] Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Oct;26(7):1095-101. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Jul 20. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial. Creswell JD1, Irwin MR, Burklund LJ, Lieberman MD, Arevalo JM, Ma J, Breen EC, Cole SW. Free full text: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3635809/ Abstract Lonely older adults have increased expression of pro-inflammatory genes as well as increased risk for morbidity and mortality. Previous behavioral treatments have attempted to reduce loneliness and its concomitant health risks, but have had limited success. The present study tested whether the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program (compared to a Wait-List control group) reduces loneliness and downregulates loneliness-related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults (N = 40). Consistent with study predictions, mixed effect linear models indicated that the MBSR program reduced loneliness, compared to small increases in loneliness in the control group (treatment condition × time interaction: F(1,35) = 7.86, p = .008). Moreover, at baseline, there was an association between reported loneliness and upregulated pro-inflammatory NF-κB-related gene expression in circulating leukocytes, and MBSR downregulated this NF-κB-associated gene expression profile at post-treatment. Finally, there was a trend for MBSR to reduce C Reactive Protein (treatment condition × time interaction: (F(1,33) = 3.39, p = .075). This work provides an initial indication that MBSR may be a novel treatment approach for reducing loneliness and related pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults. PMID: 22820409 ---------- [3] Malarkey WB, Jarjoura D, Klatt M (2013): Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A randomized trial. Brain Behav Immun. 27: 145–154. --------- [4] Rosenkranz MA, Davidson RJ, MacCoon DG, Sheridan JF, Kalin NH, Lutz A (2013): A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Brain Behav Immun. 27C: 174–184. -------------- [5] Lengacher CA, Kip KE, Barta MK, Post-White J, Jacobsen P, Groer M, et al. (2012): A Pilot Study Evaluating the Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Psychological Status, Physical Status, Salivary Cortisol, and Interleukin-6 Among Advanced-Stage Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers. J Holist Nurs. 30: 170–185.
  3. All, Sthira, in a recent post to the exercise thread ,which I wantonly edited (my bad, sorry Sthira...) in order to create this new thread on animal cruelty, mentioned how beneficial dance is for health & longevity, complementing my daughter, who is a dancer. In vindication Sthira's assessment, this new study [1] (press release, popular press article) found that engaging in social dancing, particularly rigorous social dancing (enough to make one "out of breath and sweaty"), reduced cardiovascular mortality risk by 50% relative to people who didn't dance. Dancing was about twice as beneficial for CVD mortality as walking, even after controlling for a pretty extensive set of potential confounders, including age, sex, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol, BMI, chronic illness, psychosocial distress, and total physical activity amount. Discussing the study, one of the authors said: "We should not underestimate the playful social interaction aspects of dancing which, when coupled with some more intense movement, can be a very powerful stress relief and heart health promoting pastime... The Bee Gees said it best - you should be dancing," Maybe we should have a dance party one evening at the CR Conference.☺ --Dean ---------- [1] American Journal of Preventive Medicine Available online 1 March 2016, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2016.01.004 Dancing Participation and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality: A Pooled Analysis of 11 Population-Based British Cohorts Dafna Merom, PhD, Ding Ding, PhD, Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD Free full text: http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(16)00030-1/pdf Abstract Introduction Little is known about whether cardiovascular benefits vary by activity type. Dance is a multidimensional physical activity of psychosocial nature. The study aimed to examine the association between dancing and cardiovascular disease mortality. Methods A cohort study pooled 11 independent population surveys in the United Kingdom from 1995 to 2007, analyzed in 2014. Participants were 48,390 adults aged ≥40 years who were free of cardiovascular disease at baseline and consented to be linked to the National Death Registry. Respondents reported participation in light- or moderate-intensity dancing and walking in the past 4 weeks. Physical activity amount was calculated based on frequency, duration, and intensity of participation in various types of exercise. The main outcome was cardiovascular disease mortality based on ICD-9 codes 390−459 or ICD-10 codes I01−I99. Results During 444,045 person-years, 1,714 deaths caused by cardiovascular disease were documented. Moderate-intensity, but not light-intensity, dancing and walking were both inversely associated with cardiovascular disease mortality. In Cox regression models, the hazard ratios for cardiovascular disease mortality, adjusted for age, sex, SES, smoking, alcohol, BMI, chronic illness, psychosocial distress, and total physical activity amount, were 0.54 (95% CI=0.34, 0.87) for moderate-intensity dancing and 0.75 (95% CI=0.62, 0.90) for moderate-intensity walking. Conclusions Moderate-intensity dancing was associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease mortality to a greater extent than walking. The association between dance and cardiovascular disease mortality may be explained by high-intensity bouts during dancing, lifelong adherence, or psychosocial benefits.