Want to live a long life? You don’t need to just sleep well, exercise, and eat healthy foods — you also need to stop feeling lonely.

Research shows that people who spend most of their time alone, as well as people who are frequently social but still feel isolated, are more likely to face premature death. In fact, it’s just as risky as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. Loneliness is increasingly considered to be a “public health hazard.”

At the 2017 TED Conference on Wednesday in Vancouver, architect Grace Kim posited a solution: cohousing.

What Is Cohousing?

“Cohousing” describes an intentional community that lives together in a specific neighborhood or building and shares some common spaces. Kim is an expert on the topic and has designed many cohousing units, including the one in which she currently lives in Seattle.

What Are the Benefits of Cohousing?

Kim called cohousing an “antidote to isolation.” She said that loneliness is often caused not by the number of friends we have but by how connected we feel to the people around us. Compared to city apartment complexes, suburban sprawl, and other common types of residential areas, cohousing facilitates deeper connections with neighbors because inhabitants share common spaces and eat together at least semi-regularly. In cohousing, she said, “People know each other and look out for each other.”

Kim noted that cohousing has only been adopted by a fraction of the world’s population and is especially unpopular in the West. “That needs to change,” she said. “Because our very lives depend on it.”

Re-Making the Suburban Cul-de-Sac:  Combining and Redefining Current Single Family Homes Into Cohousing
An imagined cohousing community designed by ASU graduate students based on a preexisting cul-de-sac.

The next time you’re feeling lonely and blue, think about whether your surroundings are contributing to the feeling of isolation. Adjusting the environment around you is one of many great ways to encourage social connectedness.

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In the words of Kim: “Cohousing can save your life.”

Photos via Flickr / JoeInSouthernCA, Schemata Workshop

Monica Hunter-Hart is a journalist based in New York City. She's originally from Massachusetts, and has written for Paste Magazine, San Francisco Classical Voice, and more.