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