Campus News

Faculty member looks at link between loneliness and health

Kerstin Gerst Emerson, a clinical associate professor in the College of Public Health, recently spoke with the AARP about the link between loneliness and health.

Some of the health risks that people who are chronically lonely or isolated face might include heart disease, diabetes, infections, cognitive decline and depression.

“Penguins who huddle together stay warmer,” and humans aren’t much different, Emerson said. “We’ve always survived better if we are together.”

An example is that people may eat better and move more if they’re around others.

“If you’re lonely and alone—and this happened to a lot of us during the pandemic—maybe you just eat a bowl of cereal for dinner because you can’t be bothered to make a whole meal for yourself,” she said.

Emerson suggests starting with small steps. That might mean something as simple as walking outside and smiling at another person.

“It’s going to make a difference to you, but also the person you just smiled at,” she said.