Researchers at the University of Queensland have found that women who are satisfied with the quality of their social connections in their 40s and 50s are less likely to develop multiple chronic diseases later in life. The study is published in General Psychiatry .
The relationship between poor social connections and poor health has been proven before, but until now, research has focused on individual diseases or a person’s marital status. The authors of the new study note that our lives are more complex: it is possible to be married or have a large social network and still be deeply unhappy socially.
The researchers used data from 7694 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health (ALSWH), who were 45-50 years old in 1996. Their health and well-being was assessed using questionnaires every three years until 2016.
The researchers found that middle-aged women with the lowest levels of relationship satisfaction were more than twice as likely to develop multiple chronic diseases as women who were highly satisfied with their relationships.
They were more likely to suffer from diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, depression and anxiety.
Scientists believe that unsatisfactory social connections can be as serious a risk factor for the disease as obesity, lack of physical activity or alcohol consumption. At the same time, global health strategies do not consider poor social connections as a risk factor for chronic diseases.