10/17/2018 15:45 EDT | Updated 10/24/2018 13:40 EDT

U.K. Doctors To Prescribe Social Activities To Patients To Combat Loneliness

Recommended group activities include cooking classes, walking groups and art clubs.

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Doctors are prescribing social activities like cooking classes and exercise groups to fight loneliness.

LONDON (AP) — Doctors in England will be able to write prescriptions for cooking classes and walking groups by 2023 as part of the government's effort to combat loneliness.

Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday described loneliness as "one of the greatest public health challenges of our time," saying it is linked with a range of illnesses, including heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

The government says around 200,000 older people across the country haven't had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

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Happy senior couple relaxing, enjoying a picnic and waiting for a movie in park to start.

The government's anti-loneliness strategy calls for "social prescribing," which will allow doctors to recommend group activities such as cooking classes, walking groups and art clubs, instead of medication.

Loneliness is also a major issue for Canadians. According to the 2017 census, more people than ever are living alone, and according to Andrew Wister, director of the gerontology research centre at Simon Fraser University in B.C., studies have found that one in five Canadians experience loneliness or social isolation.

Therapist Megan Rafuse, founder of Toronto therapy clinic Shift Collab, said she often hears from her clients that when work or school, caregiving responsibilities, and other demands feel overwhelming, socialization and connection is often the first to be taken off the to-do list.

"Ironically, what helps us to cope with these demands is exactly the opposite: strong relationships and connection with others," Rafuse told HuffPost Canada. "What we know is that when we prioritize connection with others, we actually thrive in all aspects of our lives and offer ourselves a buffer against mental illness, including depression and anxiety."

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Rafuse noted that humans are wired for connection and social beings require social support, inclusion in groups and healthy relationships.

"Loneliness is a collection of emotional and physical symptoms that occur when we struggle to meet our basic human need for connection and socialization. As more and more of us are living alone, whether by choice or situational factors, we must increasingly focus on how we engage in our communities, relationships, work environments and other social contexts."

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Friends spending time together outdoors.

Dr. Robin Lennox, a family physician and assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., told Radio Canada International (RCI) earlier this year that "more and more community surveys are finding anywhere between 25 and 30 per cent of Canadians across various age groups are reporting persistent loneliness or social isolation."

It would seem that a prescription to spend time with friends, family and communities might be in order for many Canadians as well.

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