NEWS

Eating Alone May Raise Heart Risks for Women, Study Says

Woman eating alone

Key Takeaways

  • A new study highlights potentially negative effects of eating alone, especially for older women.
  • The two main factors may be loneliness and lower calorie consumption.
  • By addressing these aspects of eating with others, older women may be able to mitigate the risks of solo eating.

There is something particularly enjoyable about sharing a meal with someone. But now researchers believe it may provide some health benefits, too.

Conversely, frequently eating alone can have a negative impact on health, especially for mature women. Researchers discovered that eating alone may increase heart health risks according to a study in the journal Menopause.

About the Study

Researchers looked at 590 women over age 65 and assigned them to either an eating-alone group or an eating-with-others group based on whether they regularly ate alone or with others. They found women who ate by themselves were 2.58 times more likely to have angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease that involves reduced blood flow to the heart.

They also discovered that the participants tended to have less awareness of nutrition labels and ate less calories, fiber, sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates. The women also were more likely to be widowed and tended to have lower incomes.

Researchers noted that creating meaningful social ties for older women may be a way to improve not only their nutrition but also their overall health.

Effect of Isolation

The two main factors in the recent study seem to be lower calorie intake among the women who ate alone, and a higher risk of loneliness, which can lead to depression symptoms. For someone who eats alone frequently, attempting to pivot toward eating most meals with a companion or within a community is likely unrealistic.

However, the reasons for the health risks in the current study offer clues about what strategies may be helpful. Working toward lowering loneliness and isolation can be particularly beneficial.

Robert Greenfield, MD›

We are built to connect with other people, and sometimes that requires effort.

— Robert Greenfield, MD›

Depression and heart health have often been linked, so it is helpful to address both together, according to Robert Greenfield, MD, FACC, FAHA,, FNLA, co-founder of California Heart Associates.

That's possible through a number of strategies that have been shown to increase heart health while lowering depression risk. These strategies include:

One of the most meaningful tactics is to get some type of social interaction, ideally daily but at least a few times per week, says Dr. Greenfield.

"We are built to connect with other people, and sometimes that requires effort," he adds. "It's nice when it's over a meal, but there are many other ways to get the benefits of that social time."

For example, he suggests asking a friend to go on a weekly walk—which can help your heart and boost your mood while you move. Joining a group exercise class works, too. In a study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry looking at loneliness in older people, even a single session of a community-based workout decreased loneliness and social isolation for participants for 6 months after participation.

Be Mindful of Your Caloric Needs

As people age, calorie needs shift, especially if there are changes in activity levels that can lower your basal metabolic rate. That means you may have less muscle mass, and that requires fewer calories to maintain your weight. But it's possible to swing too far into calorie restriction as well.

Paul Takahashi, MD

Loss of taste can have a significant impact on quality of life and lead to decreased appetite and poor nutrition.

— Paul Takahashi, MD

This can happen not just with feelings of isolation, but also from a reduced sense of taste. Some loss of smell and taste is natural during aging, especially over age 60, according to Paul Takahashi, MD, who works in the geriatric consultative group at Mayo Clinic. But other factors may exacerbate this, he adds, and those include:

  • Dental problems
  • Medications like ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers
  • Allergies or nasal polyps
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Cigarette smoking

"Loss of taste can have a significant impact on quality of life and lead to decreased appetite and poor nutrition," Dr. Takahashi notes.

He suggests that if you're older and this is an issue, talk with a healthcare provider. It may be possible to adjust medications or address sinus or dental problems that may be affecting your taste.

What This Means For You

A recent study highlights how eating alone may raise heart health risks for mature women, but people may be able to lower those risks by incorporating more social interaction, nutritional changes, and exercise. If you are interested in changing your eating plan or implementing a new exercise regimen, be sure you talk to a healthcare provider first.

 

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Han-Gyo Choi, Hye-Jin Kim, Seok-Jung Kang. Association between eating alone and cardiovascular diseases in elderly women. Menopause, 2021; Publish Ahead of Print. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001887

  2. Mays AM, Kim S, Rosales K, Au T, Rosen S. The leveraging exercise to age in place (Leap) study: engaging older adults in community-based exercise classes to impact loneliness and social isolationThe American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2021;29(8):777-788. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2020.10.006

  3. MedlinePlus. Nutrition for older adults. Updated April 10, 2018.