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Extended Effects of A Social Network

Posted Sep 17 2013 10:07pm

Previously, studies suggest that a person’s social relationships may impact his or her own health outcomes.  Bert N. Uchino, from the University of Utah (Utah, USA), and colleagues studied 94 married couples (mean age 29.6 years) who were free from hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and a recent history of psychological disorders.  For each subject, the team assessed the quality of their social contacts, looking for supportive relationships, aversive relationships, or relationships with both positive and negative aspects (defined as ambivalent ties).  On average, the participants had an average of 8.39 supportive social ties, 7.92 ambivalent social ties, and 1.02 aversive relationships.  Each participant underwent blood pressure monitoring on one day.   The researchers observed that the quality of an individual's social networks was associated with his/her own health: a greater number of supportive ties were associated with reduced diastolic blood pressure, and a greater number of aversive ties were associated with higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  After adjusting for confounding factors, the researchers also found that a greater number supportive ties in one spouse was marginally associated with lower systolic blood pressure in the other spouse, and a greater number of aversive or ambivalent ties were associated with increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the other spouse.  As well, the combined quality of a married couple's social networks also seemed to influence blood pressure in a similar fashion.  The study authors conclude that: “These data suggest that the social ties of those we have close relationships with may influence our cardiovascular risk and opens new opportunities to capitalize on untapped social resources or to mitigate hidden sources of social strain.”

Bert N. Uchino, Timothy W. Smith, McKenzie Carlisle, Wendy C. Birmingham, Kathleen C. Light.  “The Quality of Spouses’ Social Networks Contributes to Each Other’s Cardiovascular Risk.”  PLOS ONE, 21 Aug. 2013.

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Tip #192 - Stay Connected
Researchers from the University of Chicago (Illinois, USA) report that social isolation may be detrimental to both mental and physical health. The team analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationwide US study involving 3,000 men and women, ages 57 to 85 years. They arrived at three key findings regarding the relationships between health and different types of isolation:

• The researchers found that the most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.

• The team found that older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.

• They determined that social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Separately, Rush University Medical Center (Illinois, USA) researchers studied 906 older men and women, testing their motor functions (including grip, pinch strength, balance, and walking) and surveying their social activity, for a period of 5 years. Those study participants with less social activity were found to have a more rapid rate of motor function decline. Specifically, the team found that every one-point decrease in social activity corresponded to an increase in functional aging of 5 years, translating to a 40% higher risk of death and 65% higher risk of disability.

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