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Social Ties May Be Key
to Long, Healthy Life

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Men who are married, have a large number of friends, relatives and other social ties may live a longer, healthier life than their socially isolated peers, according to recent study findings.

"Staying healthy and living longer is not simply a matter of practicing good health habits or getting good medical care," study author Dr. Ichiro Kawachi, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, told Reuters Health.

"A good friend or spouse can help keep the doctor away," he added.

Kawachi, director of the Harvard Center for Society and Health, and his colleagues investigated the effect of social ties, death and heart disease, in a 10-year follow-up study of 28,369 male health professionals aged 42 to 77 years. Roughly half of the men reported belonging to large social networks that included a spouse, a large number of friends or relatives, and/or community group involvement.

During the course of the study, 1,365 individuals died from heart disease, cancer or some other cause, according to the report in the April 15th issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Men who were more socially isolated, however, were nearly 20% more likely to die from any cause than their more socially integrated peers, the investigators found.

Socially isolated men were also 53% more likely to die from a heart-related cause than those who reported the highest number of social ties, the researchers report. Further, those with a moderately low number of social connections had a more than twofold greater risk of death from accidents and suicides than did their peers with the most social ties.

The investigators also identified more than 1,800 cases of heart disease that were diagnosed during the study period, including 239 heart disease-related or sudden cardiac deaths. Again, socially isolated men had an 82% higher risk of death from heart disease than their peers, the report indicates.

Overall, married men reportedly had a lower risk of death from any cause and a greater than twofold reduced risk of death from accidents and suicides than their unmarried peers. In addition, men who attended at least one religious service per year and those who spent at least 11 hours per week participating in some type of social group also seemed to be protected against all causes of death.

In light of the findings, which Kawachi said most likely applies to women as well as men, "healthcare workers and social workers should pay attention to their clients' social situation as much as their cholesterol levels or blood pressure levels."

The researcher concludes that "social isolation is a 'risk factor' for ill health that deserves as much attention as other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other ailments."

The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;155:700-709.


Reference Source 89

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