With a little health from my friends

2 minute read

A new study confirms the importance of social relationships for dodging multimorbidities.

There really is no splendour in isolation – certainly not for women in midlife who wish to avoid multiple chronic illnesses.

It’s not news that loneliness is bad for your health, but a study published in BMJ General Psychiatry has taken a new tack in comparing self-reported satisfaction across a range of relationships with multimorbidities in women over decades.

Using data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, the team studied nearly 8000 women who were aged 45-50 in 1996 and free from 11 chronic conditions: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, COPD, asthma, osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, depression and anxiety.

The team measured the subjects’ satisfaction with five types of social relationship – partners/closest person, family members, friends, work/career/study and social activities – and mapped their accumulation of multimorbidities (acquiring two or more of the above conditions) over 20 years.

They found a strong dose-dependent inverse relationship between social satisfaction and chronic disease accumulation – an association that held across each type of relationship and overall, and which remained strong after adjusting for sociodemographic and lifestyle risk factors and menopause.

In fact they found the association was at least as strong as those for well known risk factors such as obesity.

They suggest clinicians ask patients about the quality of their social lives, and that soial relationships become a priority for community health and governments.

As for how it works, the authors don’t spend a lot of time speculating on potential mechanisms. Previously proposed pathways include via better health behaviours such as physical activity, nutrition and care-seeking, and direct physiological effects of biological and psychosocial factors.

There go The Back Page’s dreams of a career change from journalist to hermit.

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