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Menopause, Social Isolation and Loneliness

by | Aug 8, 2022 | Articles, Mindful Movement

Are you feeling isolated?

Times of transition like having a baby, menopause, children leaving the nest and even a change of job or a house move can leave us feeling isolated. Social isolation can lead to loneliness, but loneliness can lead to social isolation and both may also occur at the same time. People can experience different levels of social isolation and loneliness over their lifetime, moving in and out of these states as their personal circumstances change.

I know something of this as a menopausal woman now living in my 25th house (long story) with number one son off to university and his brother to follow shortly. Not to mention the enforced isolation brought about by a global pandemic. There are however thousands of people for whom this level of isolation is merely the norm.

An ONS analysis (2018) highlighted three profiles of people at particular risk from loneliness:

  • Widowed older homeowners living alone with long-term health conditions
  • Unmarried, middle-agers with long-term health conditions
  • Younger renters with little trust and sense of belonging to their area.

With social distancing still fresh in our memories, vulnerable people are still reluctant to avoid social activities, non-essential travel, and unnecessary visits to relatives or friends. Employment practices have shifted towards home working and housing and personal finances are increasingly precarious. With all this comes an increased risk that health and wellbeing will continue to deteriorate even further.

Human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. In many societies, social networks are likely to thin as people age, leading in many cases to isolation and loneliness. Our modern society is now more mobile than ever before and social relationships are often maintained at a distance through telephone contact, email, and social media, thus increasing our risk of social isolation.

Recent studies have found that: Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Interestingly social isolation is associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementiaSource.

Social isolation can also have direct effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors. Perceived isolation and loneliness are associated with increased sympathetic nervous system activity, increased inflammation, and decreased sleep, all of which can accelerate brain and cardiovascular agEing (Cacioppo, et al., 2011). There is also some evidence that loneliness can affect immune function, increasing our susceptibility to infection (Cohen S et al. 1997).

A large cohort study has recently revealed that the different methods of contact are not all equal when it comes to reducing feelings of loneliness and depression, but harnessing modern technology to reduce isolation may be better than no intervention at all. The investigators found a higher risk of depression in those with less than once-a-month face to face contact with children, family, or friends. People with once or twice-a-week contact had the lowest rates of depression. Source

My hope is that the random acts of kindness we witnessed during the pandemic will continue long after it is a distant memory. Perhaps we will have more empathy for a new colleague, be more giving of our time and be more willing to engage with an elderly or not so elderly neighbour.

We all stand to benefit; gain a sense of giving back and contributing, meet new people and feel more connected to others. Bask in the positivity generated by engaging in new activity; just be in the moment and let go. Who knows where it might lead.

Music, Movement, Mood and Health

There is no doubt that music has the capacity to alter mood, but did you know this can lead to improved health outcomes. The different elements of rhythm, melody, pitch and harmony produce psychological responses within a person when it passes through the auditory cortex of the brain. Music is processed in the limbic system, this part of the brain is the centre of emotions, sensations and feelings and so music alters mood and can decrease anxiety, depression, agitation and pain.

The physiological responses to music are also a cue for movement. From the auditory cortex, the neural impulses of rhythm stimulate the neural motor impulses due to its recurring patterns and predictable cues. Rhythmic cueing leads to synchronisation that determines timing, cadence and dynamics of physical movements (Thaut 1997). This is demonstrated by almost impossible to resist finger and toe tapping.

Music and movementExercising to music can improve mood (Murrock 2002), and these positive mood changes might increase our motivation to continue exercising. We are more likely to enjoy exercising to music and actually enjoying a physical activity makes it feel a lot less like hard work. So when we are beginning a fitness campaign or trying to increase levels of physical activity, focus on enjoyment as this reinforces the behaviour and is critical to the success of a new physical activity programme (Motl et al. 2000).

So why not put movement together with music and we have a recipe for success and improving health; weight management, reducing cardiovascular risk factors, blood pressure management, blood sugar management and overall improving quality of life. Source

Jack Harris

If you would like a suggestion for something new to add to your playlist my talented musician son Jack Harris makes his debut appearance drumming for his friend George Shelley on this track on Spotify and they would welcome your listen. Feeling the Heat

Author: Phillipa Butler

Chartered Physiotherapist. Passionate about movement as medicine. Using pilates and yoga to mitigate the symptoms of the menopause. Contact Phillipa

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