Study leader J. David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University also found that mindfulness meditation -- a 2,500-year-old practice dating back to Buddha that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment -- lowered inflammation levels, which is believed to promote the development and progression of many diseases such as diabetes.
"We always tell people to quit smoking for health reasons, but rarely do we think about loneliness in the same way," Creswell said in a statement. "We know that loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems and mortality in older adults. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults."
The research team recruited 40 healthy adults age 55-85, who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation techniques. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples also were collected.
The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program -- noticing sensations and working on breathing -- or no treatment.
The study, published in Brain, Behavior & Immunity, found eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants' loneliness and reduced the pro-inflammatory response.