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Medical Health Aged Care

Gender-specific social factors may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

Monash University 4 mins read

Differences in social factors that may reduce cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk for men and women have been identified by Monash University-led research using a field of artificial intelligence (AI)

Published in the BMJ Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, researchers employed machine learning (ML) algorithms to pinpoint key predictors of CVD from a set of 25 social factors.

The study found that being married/partnered, or having social support from others, was associated with a reduced risk of CVD for men and women.

For men, activities like playing chess or cards, having 3-8 relatives with whom they feel close and can rely on for help, or having 3-8 relatives they are comfortable discussing private matters with, was associated with a respective 18, 24 and 30 per cent lower risk of CVD.

For women, living with others (eg. family, friends, relatives) and having at least three friends with whom they can comfortably discuss private matters was associated with a respective 26, and 29 per cent reduced risk of CVD.

The data came from 9,936 initially healthy, community-dwelling Australians aged 70 and more, who were followed for an average of six years after enrolling in the ASPREE* project. It used both machine learning, a type of AI, and conventional models.

 

First author Achamyeleh Birhanu Teshale, a PhD candidate from the Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said support from friends and relatives had benefits for reducing the risk of CVD in men and women.

 

“Notably, our study found that women’s close friendships, particularly those who had developed to the point of comfort in sharing personal matters, was associated with a lower risk of incident CVD,” Mr Teshale said. “While for men, having close relatives with whom one can easily seek assistance or discuss personal concerns was linked to a lower incidence of CVD.

“Additionally, men in this study may have engaged more in socialisation through competitive activities like playing games, while women may have preferred to socialise by surrounding themselves with others regardless of what the activities are. These could, in turn, have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.

“Regardless of your age, the evidence for the benefits of close friends and relatives on cardiovascular health is apparent. This phenomenon might be attributed to the positive impact of sharing feelings with family members, friends or neighbours in fostering a sense of well-being and connectedness.”

Research has already established that poor social health due to social isolation, loneliness, low social support, and social integration is associated with a higher risk of CVD. However, the role of a broad range of social health indicators has not been studied in relation to CVD risk.

 

Senior author Dr Rosanne Freak-Poli, from the Monash University School of Clinical Sciences and School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said it was the first to consider an extensive array of social factors for men and women, encompassing 25 socialisation variables across five domains.

 

They included relative and friend support, living arrangement, volunteering or informally helping others, social interaction or engagement, and employment/retirement. Dr Freak-Poli said the results underlined the need for social outlets and government programs that connected people of all ages.

“Discussing emotions and receiving support from family and friends offers significant benefits to physical health as well as mental health and wellbeing,” she said. “We advise that older adults seek to maintain connections with their loved ones, as well as getting out to join new activities or new groups to find your next best friend.

“Research has shown that our friendship groups tend to change every seven years. So making new friends is an important part of life, no matter what your age. Our findings have the potential to complement or strengthen government-supported strategies designed to increase social support for older people.

“For instance, the Australian government’s Seniors Connected programme also pursues to address poor social relationships through initiatives such as the FriendLine (a free national phone support service), and Village Hubs (which offer a variety of member-led social activities like walking groups and social events).

“It may take time to find the right group for you. We advocate for social prescribing, which allows health professionals to prescribe socialising and other activities as part of people’s health. It provides an opportunity for people to be linked with services already in their community to improve wellbeing and quality of life. This way people get assistance with finding a group right for them.” 

Some useful socialisation links
Friendline: https://www.friendline.org.au/
Neighbourhood houses:
https://www.anhca.org/findahousecentre
Local council events calendar/website:
https://www.mycommunitydirectory.com.au/

To discuss increasing your socialising, or feelings of loneliness, please call

For media enquiries please contact: Monash University


Cheryl Critchley – Media and Communications Manager (medical)
E:
cheryl.critchley@monash.edu

T: +61 (0) 477 571 442


For more Monash media stories, visit our
news and events site 


For general media enquiries please contact
: Monash Media
E: 
media@monash.edu
T: +61 (0) 3 9903 4840


*About ASPREE

ASPREE (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) was a large primary prevention aspirin trial in more than 19,000 participants in Australia and the US, mostly aged 70 years and older, and continues today as an observational follow-up study, ASPREE-XT.  Study participants self-reported social activities in the ALSOP (ASPREE Longitudinal Study of Older Persons) questionnaires, a sub-study of ASPREE. The ASPREE project is funded by the National Institutes of Health (USA) and the NHMRC (Australia) and is led by Monash University in Australia and the Berman Center for Outcomes & Clinical Research in the US. Visit: https://aspree.org/aus/ 

 

 

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