How our relationships affect our health

Being a loner or social pariah doesn’t come without its negative health implications. Research conducted over the past several decades on social isolation indicate just how detrimental the affects of social isolation can be. Healthy individuals who are effectively cut-off from society can deteriorate quickly, both physically and mentally. One study conducted on altogether 32,624 US male health professionals aged 42 to 77 years of age totaled 517 deaths. Compared with men with the highest level of social networks, these socially isolated men (not married, fewer than six friends or relatives, no membership in church or community groups) were at a 90% increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality and double the deaths from accidents and suicides. 1

Relationships have costs and benefits for health.

A group of over 9,000 British civil servants were enrolled in a study to determine the association between negative aspects of close relationships and any increased risk for coronary heart disease. The study determined that marriages and close friendships marked by negativity increased the risk of heart disease. Those in a negative relationship were 34% more likely to have a coronary event in a 12 year follow up study. Additionally, Elderly persons and women especially whom act as primary caregivers for a sick spouse or loved ones may suffer from increased health risks.3

A recent article titled Good genes are nice, but joy is better highlights an 80 year study spearheaded by Harvard University which provides invaluable insight into the fabric of our social relationships.

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants.


1. Kawachi, I. et al. A prospective study of social networks in relation to total mortality and cardiovascular disease in men in the USA. J Epidemiol Community Health 50, 245–251 (1996).
2. De Vogli, R., Chandola, T. & Marmot, M. G. Negative aspects of close relationships and heart disease. Arch. Intern. Med. 167, 1951–1957 (2007).
3. Christakis, N. A. & Allison, P. D. Mortality after the hospitalization of a spouse. N. Engl. J. Med. 354, 719–730 (2006).
5. Umberson, D. & Montez, J. K. Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. J Health Soc Behav 51, S54–S66 (2010).

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