Quit smoking, take care of depression, get routine exercise and follow a healthy diet plan – these are considered the best methods to maintain better cardiovascular health in diabetes patients. But, do you know that staying connected and confiding in a friend can also be beneficial for the heart?

A recent study has revealed that loneliness can be a greater risk factor for heart disease in patients with diabetes than diet, exercise, smoking and depression.

Researchers said the study is based on the idea that human beings are inherently social and need meaningful social relationships for their physical and mental well-being.

"Loneliness and social isolation are common in today's societies and have become a research focus during the last years, especially driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuous digitalization of society," study author Lu Qi said in a news release.

The research team evaluated 18,509 adults between 37 to 73 years in the U.K. Biobank, who have diabetes but without any cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. After a follow-up of 10.7 years, 2,771 participants developed coronary heart disease, 701 participants had a stroke, and some patients had both.

Researchers assessed loneliness and isolation using questionnaires, with high-risk features allocated one point each. High-risk loneliness, or the inability to confide in someone was measured based on a total score of 0 to 2, while high-risk social isolation where participants were living alone or not engaging in any social activity was measured on a total score of 0 to 3.

"Compared to participants with the lowest loneliness score, the risk of cardiovascular disease was 11% and 26% higher in those with scores of 1 or 2, respectively. Similar results were observed for coronary heart disease but the association with stroke was not significant," the researchers said in the news release.

The findings suggest that loneliness, which refers to the quality of social interaction, has a significant impact on heart health, while social isolation, which refers to the quantity of interaction, was not significantly related to any of the cardiovascular outcomes.

"The quality of social contact appears to be more important for heart health in people with diabetes than the number of engagements. We should not downplay the importance of loneliness on physical and emotional health. I would encourage patients with diabetes who feel lonely to join a group or class and try to make friends with people who have shared interests," Qi added.