By Patrick Moody Spokesman for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital It was the Beatles who sang, “Look at all the lonely people.” Now more than ever, we may be a nation that can really relate to that line. An estimated 28 percent of Americans over 50 lead lonely lives, according to one survey. And a growing body of evidence suggests that isolation may harm our health and even shorten our lives. But how? One theory is that lonely people lack other people in their lives who encourage healthy habits, the National Institutes of Health reports. Or loneliness might harm us directly—perhaps by changing the immune system in ways that leave people vulnerable to illness. Health risks linked to loneliness include high blood pressure, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Where do they all come from? It’s true that many people see their social circles shrink as they get older, retire or become empty nesters. But loneliness happens to people of all ages. In fact, one recent survey even suggests that today’s younger adults may be lonelier than seniors — possibly because the proliferation of social media is reducing real-world connections. And if you’re thinking that only solitary people get lonely, think again. It’s possible to be around or even live with other people and still feel disconnected. Expand your social circle If loneliness makes us less happy and less healthy, connecting with others may have the opposite effects: longer lives and more years enjoyed in good health, research suggests. One way to stay connected is to get involved with people and to participate in projects with a purpose. Here are some suggestions from experts on the topic: Take a class for adults. From art to cooking, classes are offered at some libraries and other community organizations. It’s a good way to meet folks and learn something new. Grow something good. Join a community garden and harvest produce and friendships as your rewards. Start or join a walking group in your neighborhood, a park or a nearby mall. Help others. The community will benefit—and you will too. For example, you might volunteer at a homeless shelter, a school, a museum, an animal shelter, or if I may, a hospital. There are nearly 300 volunteers at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Patrick Moody is director of marketing and public relations at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. For more information, go to henrymayo.com.