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  • Writer's pictureMelanie

The 5th pillar of health – what is it and why does it matter?

The four pillars that are regularly discussed to support a longer, healthier life are nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress management. The fifth pillar is connection and community. There is growing evidence of the importance of connection and being part of a wider ’something’.

Research into longevity, the Blue Zones, brain health and dementia has shown that people with a good network around them tend to live a longer and more fulfilling life.

When I was growing up, everyone seemed to know and look out for, everyone else in the village. Today 45% of adults feel occasionally, sometimes or often lonely in England. This equates to twenty five million people.

The Campaign to End Loneliness has some startling statistics:

Health risks:

  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26%

  • Loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke [1]

  • Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure [2]

  • Loneliness with severe depression is associated with early mortality [3] and loneliness is a risk factor for depression in later life [4]

  • Loneliness and social isolation put individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia [5]

Loneliness and older people

  • The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years [6]

  • Half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all [7]

  • Well over half (59%) of those aged 85 and over and 38% of those aged 75 to 84 live alone [8]

  • Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company [9]

The evidence shows that in order to promote good health, both physically and mentally, we need to make connections, so where can we start?

Now that COVID restrictions are minimal, classes such as yoga, art, languages and knitting are opening up in village halls and across the country, perhaps now may be the time to take up a new hobby or learn Spanish ready for your next trip abroad?

Meet Up is a fabulous network that helps you to connect to people locally who have similar interests, from ‘Pudding and Pints’ to book groups and mountaineering. There are also groups especially for those who find it hard to mix. If nothing takes your fancy, you can even start your own group through Meet Up.

If you are green-fingered, perhaps setting up or getting involved with a community garden may be the thing for you? A community garden can offer people a place to relax, a way to engage with nature, meet others and get active outdoors. The Royal Horticultural Society has lots of useful information to get you started.

There is a Park Run every Saturday local to me, and at hundreds of locations around the country. These are free, friendly events, with a mixture of walkers, wheelchair users, and runners, who often meet up at a café nearby afterwards.

Volunteering is another great way to find new people to connect with. There are thousands of volunteering opportunities out there, from charity work to helping on farms in exchange for board. In my younger days I volunteered for the Red Cross to provide respite for carers, where I met some wonderful people. The NCVO website listed below is a great place to start.

Not everyone is mobile or has transport, so how about looking in on your neighbours, popping round for a cuppa, or asking if they would like to come with you to a group? You never know, you might find a wonderful friendship.

My plan for this year is to have coffee and cake with my neighbours, take part in the park run and hopefully become part of a community cooking initiative, how about you?

Useful websites:


[1] Valtorta, N.K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S. and Hanratty, B., 2016. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart, 102(13), pp.1009-1016.

[2] Hawkley, L.C., Thisted, R.A., Masi, C.M. and Cacioppo, J.T., 2010. Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. Psychology and aging, 25(1), p.132.

[3]Holwerda, T.J., van Tilburg, T.G., Deeg, D.J., Schutter, N., Van, R., Dekker, J., Stek, M.L., Beekman, A.T. and Schoevers, R.A., 2016. Impact of loneliness and depression on mortality: results from the Longitudinal Ageing Study Amsterdam. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 209(2), pp.127-134.

[4] Courtin, E., & Knapp, M. (2017). Social isolation, loneliness and health in old age: a scoping review. Health & social care in the community, 25(3), 799-812

[5] Cacioppo, J.T. and Cacioppo, S., 2014. Older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function 4 years later. Evidence-based nursing, 17(2), pp.59-60.

[6] Age UK 2018, All The Lonely People

[7] Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one


[9] Age, U.K., 2014. Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life. London: Age UK

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