Social Health

, by Stephen de Bruyn

Friends and family can literally save your life and give you better health!

Many types of scientific evidence show that involvement in social relationships benefits health. The most striking evidence comes from prospective studies of mortality across industrialized nations. These studies consistently show that individuals with the lowest level of involvement in social relationships are more likely to die than those with greater involvement (House, Landis, and Umberson 1988). For example, Berkman and Syme (1979) showed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social ties was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most social ties. Moreover, this finding held even when socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and other variables that might influence mortality, were taken into account. Social ties also reduce mortality risk among adults with documented medical conditions. For instance, Brummett and colleagues (2001) found that, among adults with coronary artery disease, the socially isolated had a risk of subsequent cardiac death 2.4 times greater than their more socially connected peers.

In addition to mortality, involvement in social relationships has been associated with specific health conditions as well as biological markers indicating risk of preclinical conditions. Several recent review articles provide consistent and compelling evidence linking a low quantity or quality of social ties with a host of conditions, including development and progression of cardiovascular disease, recurrent myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, autonomic dysregulation, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed cancer recovery, and slower wound healing (Ertel, Glymour, and Berkman 2009; Everson-Rose and Lewis 2005; Robles and Kiecolt-Glaser 2003; Uchino 2006). Poor quality and low quantity of social ties have also been associated with inflammatory biomarkers and impaired immune function, factors associated with adverse health outcomes and mortality (Kiecolt-Glaser et al. 2002; Robles and Kiecolt-Glaser 2003). Marriage is perhaps the most studied social tie. Recent work shows that marital history over the life course shapes a range of health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, chronic conditions, mobility limitations, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms (Hughes and Waite 2009; Zhang and Hayward 2006).

{{ item.message }}