Middle-aged and older women who lack social ties are far more likely to suffer hypertension and thus have an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found that social isolation affects the health of men and women in different ways. With women they develop a higher risk of high blood pressure.
This study becomes acutely important in times of enforced Covid Lockdowns. Indeed, isolated women were much more likely than men to suffer from hypertension, a known risk factor for strokes and particularly for heart disease, the leading cause of death among women.
“Among older adults, social isolation is the largest known risk factor for mortality, equal only to smoking” according to principal investigator Annalijn Conklin, assistant professor in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at UBC and researcher with the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences.
Using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, the researchers analyzed the social ties of 28,238 adults aged 45 to 85, and found that women who were non-partnered, engaged in fewer than three social activities a month, or had a small social network (fewer than 85 contacts) had higher odds of hypertension.
Average systolic blood pressure was highest among widowed, lone-living and socially inactive women, and the largest difference in blood pressure was between widowed and married women. Widowed women were found to have the strongest likelihood of hypertension across all categories.
With women, the increase in blood pressure associated with the lack of social ties was significant and similar to that seen with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use, or increased sodium diets pollution or weight gain.
Regular social participation appeared to have a protective effect amongst non-partnered women, and women should regard this as important as having a healthy diet and taking exercise.
Ironically, it would seem almost the opposite applies to men – those who were single, shared a home with others, and had the largest social networks had the highest blood pressure, while those who had smaller networks and lived alone had lower blood pressure.
In a previous study by the same researchers, women who were single, widowed, divorced or separated also had higher odds of abdominal and general obesity, while men were less likely to be obese if they lived alone and had a smaller social network.
Clearly these are important issues for Healthcare workers during Covid.
- Zeinab Hosseini, Gerry Veenstra, Nadia A. Khan, Annalijn I. Conklin. Social connections and hypertension in women and men. Journal of Hypertension, 2020; Publish Ahead of Print DOI: 10.1097/HJH.0000000000002688