The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
The importance of social well-being should come as no surprise, and new research supports its inclusion if relationships are positive and support healthy lifestyles.
The findings appear to extend across the age spectrum as investigators discovered having regular interactions with family and friends and being involved in several different social networks appear to help older adults be healthier.
“Close connections with others are likely to promote but can also sometimes detract from good health by shaping daily behavior that directly affects physical health,” said Lynn M. Martire, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University.
“In some cases, the behavior may have to do with physical activity and in others, it might be related to diet or managing a chronic disease, such as diabetes,” Martire added.
The influence of social relationships on mortality risk is comparable to that of smoking and alcohol consumption, according to previous research.
Many questions remain, however, as to how social networks come about and the nature of the relationships.
Martire and colleagues discuss these issues in “The Role of Social Networks in Adult Health,” in a special issue of the American Psychological Association’s Health Psychology.
Another article in the same issue, “Negative Social Interactions and Incident Hypertension among Older Adults,” by Rodlescia S. Sneed, Ph.D., and Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, reviews the consequences of negative social interactions.
Sneed and Cohen reviewed a national sample of approximately 1,500 adults older than 50. They discovered negative social interactions were associated with a greater risk for hypertension among women and individuals ages 51 to 64.
Excessive demands, criticism and disappointment were examples of negative social interactions. These kinds of unpleasant encounters could be linked to hypertension in older adults because of their psychological effects, such as depression and general unhappiness, according to the study.
Negative social interactions have also been linked to harmful coping behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and less physical activity, the study said.
Contact: American Psychological Association