Close friends and family reduce heart disease risk by up to 30%

Socializing is important for mental and physical health, improving mood and promoting a sense of belonging, security, and safety. Many studies have demonstrated the negative impacts that loneliness and social isolation can have on health, especially for older folks.

A new study has examined just how important socializing is when it comes to heart health. Led by Australia’s Monash University, the study examined key predictors of cardiovascular disease (CVD) from a group of different socialization factors. As the first study to investigate CVD risk as it relates to a broad range of social factors, it found that gender plays a role.

The researchers looked at data from 9,936 initially healthy, community-dwelling Australians aged over 70. The data was obtained over an average of just over six years as part of the ongoing ASPREE (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) trial. Machine learning models were used to identify relevant social factors.

They found that being married or partnered was associated with a reduced CVD risk for both men and women. For men, being close to three to eight relatives they could call on for help reduced CVD risk by 24%. A man with three to eight relatives that he could discuss private matters with reduced the risk by 30%. Engaging in competitive social activities like playing chess or cards led to an 18% reduction. For women, living with others – like family, friends, or relatives – reduced CVD risk by 26%. Having three or more friends with whom private matters could be discussed was associated with a 29% reduction.

“Notably, our study found that women’s close friendships, particularly those who had developed to the point of comfort in sharing personal matters, was associated with a lower risk of incident CVD,” said Achamyeleh Birhanu Teshale, a PhD candidate from Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and the study’s lead author. “While for men, having close relatives with whom one can easily seek assistance or discuss personal concerns was linked to a lower incidence of CVD. Additionally, men in this study may have engaged in socialization through competitive activities like playing games, while women may have preferred to socialize by surrounding themselves with others regardless of what the activities are. These could, in turn, have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.”

The researchers say their findings are relevant to everyone, not just over-70s.

“Regardless of age, the evidence for the benefits of close friends and relatives on cardiovascular health is apparent,” Teshale said. “This phenomenon might be attributed to the positive impact of sharing feelings with family members, friends, or neighbors in fostering a sense of well-being and connectedness.”

The study’s take-home message seems to be a simple one: go out and socialize, foster and enjoy close relationships with friends and family. You’ll be helping your heart in the process.

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Source: Monash University via Medianet

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