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Embrace ‘fulfilling’ relationships to reduce risk of chronic disease in later life, study suggests

Satisfactory relationships in middle age have been linked to a lower risk of multiple chronic diseases in later life, according to a new study (Alamy/PA)

Middle-aged women who have “fulfilling” relationships with partners, friends and colleagues are less likely 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 don’t find these relationships satisfying, the academics said.

The new study, published in the journal General Psychiatry, looked at data from nearly 7,700 women in Australia.

The women were free of 11 common long-term conditions between the ages of 45 and 50 when the study began in 1996.

These implications may help women counsel the benefits of initiating or maintaining high-quality, diverse social relationships during middle and early life

Study authors

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

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

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

The researchers found that women who reported the lowest level of satisfaction with their social relationships were twice as likely to develop multiple conditions as those who reported the highest levels of satisfaction, according to the analysis.

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

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

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

“First, at an individual level, these implications can help advise women on the benefits of initiating or maintaining high-quality and diverse social relationships during midlife and early life.

“Second, at the community level, interventions that focus on satisfaction or the quality of social relationships may be particularly effective in preventing the progression of chronic conditions.

“Third, nationally and globally, social connectedness (e.g., social satisfaction) should be considered a public health priority in chronic disease prevention and intervention.”

They added, “These implications may help women counsel the benefits of initiating or maintaining high-quality, diverse social relationships during middle and early life.”

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