Isolation can negatively affect your health

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For some baby boomers, growing older doesn't necessarily mean friendships grow stronger. (KABC)

For some baby boomers, growing older doesn't necessarily mean friendships grow stronger.

In fact for many men as they get older, friendships tend to fade. And that can have a negative impact on health.

And while midlife crises are real, experts say, instead of using it as an excuse to go out and buy a convertible, make it a reminder to renew friendships.

Research shows one in five Americans, especially men, fall into isolation when they let friendships lapse.

The Reverend Bradford Clark sees it happen all around him, especially among the men in his congregation.

"Yes I do believe that loneliness in middle-aged men is serious and is a real concern absolutely," said Clark. That's why Clark and his parishioner Jim Field get together regularly, even if just to talk.

"A lot of times I find my purpose though my friendships with others, but friendships require cultivation just like a garden," said Field.

Life-changing events like death, divorce, or job loss often trigger isolation and more often the impact is greater in men versus women.

"It's a given that women are much quicker to pick up the phone, much quicker to have lunch, much quicker to sit and talk face-to-face and guys don't do that," Clark said.

Psychiatrist Richard Schwartz said, "Everybody doesn't want to say they are lonely because it makes you feel like a loser. But you are not a loser if you are lonely." Schwartz wrote "The Lonely American" with his wife and has consulted with patients for more than 30 years.

"Most will tell you something had to give and what gave is friends. I think of myself as having friends but I don't see them anymore and so over time the people start to slip away and they realize the connections aren't there," Schwartz explained.

Long-term loneliness can have huge medical consequences.

"The effect of social isolation and loneliness on our health is as powerful as things like smoking, high blood pressure, obesity," Schwartz said.

Janet Morrison, with the British charity "Independent Age" said, "It means staying in touch and keeping up links with friends and family. We already think about our housing and finances and we need to think about what we are going to do post-retirement to maintain our social connections."

"It is like that Nike slogan, 'Just do it.' Don't think about it. Just do it. Call somebody up and invite them to do something with you," Clark said.

Texting and Facebook don't count. It's a connection that may save your life.
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