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Embrace relationships to boost health in later life, study suggests

Middle-aged women who have “satisfying” relationships with partners, friends and colleagues are less likely to go on to develop more than one chronic health condition in later life, a new study suggests.

Women are more at risk of having multiple long-term conditions as they age if they do not deem these relationships to be satisfying, academics said.

The new study, published in the journal General Psychiatry, examined data on almost 7,700 women in Australia.

The women were free from 11 common long-term conditions aged 45-50 when the study began in 1996.

Every three years women reported their satisfaction levels with their partners, family members, friends, work and social activities.

The women were tracked for 20 years to see if they went on to develop diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, osteoporosis, arthritis, cancer, depression and anxiety.

During the follow-up period some 58% of the women developed more than one of the conditions.

Researchers found that women who reported the lowest level of satisfaction with their social relationships had double the risk of developing multiple conditions compared with those who reported the highest levels of satisfaction, according to the analysis.

Similar results were found in each different type of social relationship.

Middle-aged businesswoman
Every three years women reported their satisfaction levels with things including work (Alamy/PA)

The authors said that the finding could only partly be explained by other factors such as wealth and “behavioural and menopausal” status, but they suggested that it could be beneficial for doctors to ask their patients about their social relationships.

“Our findings have significant implications for chronic disease management and intervention,” the authors from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, wrote.

“First, at the individual level, these implications may help counsel women regarding the benefits of starting or maintaining high quality and diverse social relationships throughout middle to early old age.

“Second, at the community level, interventions focusing on social relationship satisfaction or quality may be particularly efficient in preventing the progression of chronic conditions.

“Third, at the country and global levels, social connections (eg, social relationship satisfaction) should be considered a public health priority in chronic disease prevention and intervention.”

They added: “These implications may help counsel women regarding the benefits of starting or maintaining high-quality and diverse social relationships throughout middle to early old age.”