Aging hearts need social support

Older people who lack social support may be at increased risk of heart disease, new research shows. Scientists from the University of Utah's Department of Psychology and Health Psychology Program in Salt Lake City studied 67 women and men to learn how cardiovascular health is related to age and social support.

"We found that social support moderated age-related differences in blood pressure and age predicted higher resting blood pressure but only for individuals low in social support," said Bert Uchino, head of the study.

In this study, 36 women and 31 men were recruited from the community. They ranged in age from 20 to 70, with an average of 38.3 years. None had histories of heart problems or psychological disorders. Smokers and heavy drinkers were excluded.

Researchers measured participants' blood pressures and administered a 40-item questionnaire designed to reveal levels of social support. They completed surveys relating to neuroticism, extraversion, aggression, depression, stress, life satisfaction, and their health behaviors. The scientists report the results of their study in the latest issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Age clearly predicted increased blood pressure, as measured both in resting systolic and diastolic forms. However, the relationship held true only in individuals who were low in social support. People who were approximately 50 years and older with plenty of social outlets exhibited nearly identical blood pressures as those who were decades younger.

Of people low in social support, diastolic blood pressure averaged about 63 for young people, 74 for older people. In individuals with strong social support, the average for young participants was 67, for older ones, 68. None of the other variables revealed how social support prolonged the cardiovascular youthfulness of the middle-aged and older adults. The answer to this question is critical for designing interventions especially because even slight decr

Contact: Bert Uchino, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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