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TUESDAY, Aug. 5, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Relationships with family and friends may help protect older women against death, and marriage may be the most beneficial relationship of all.
So claims a study in the July issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
The study of 7,524 women aged 65 and older found that older women with large social networks are at less risk of dying at a certain age than women with smaller social networks.
"Most -- though not all -- of the benefits of social networks in this sample seemed attributable to marriage. Both marriage and larger social networks may provide a protective effect on their own, whereas the combination of the two seems to be most beneficial," researcher Thomas Rutledge, of the University of Pittsburgh, says in a statement.
Married women who are more socially active may live at least one to two years longer than women who are more isolated. Large social networks significantly reduced the women's overall risk of earlier death, even when other factors such as diabetes, body weight, high blood pressure and other medical conditions were taken into account, the study found.
Among the strongest protectors were individual indicators of social networks, such as whether the older women had anyone to talk to about important decisions, and whether anyone helped them with cooking, cleaning or shopping.
More research is needed to determine why social networks seem to have a protective effect for older women, the researchers say.
"Social network effects are not simply a proxy for pre-existing physical health, socioeconomic status or psychological well-being. However, the suggestion of a casual link between social networks and health is equally unproven," Rutledge says.
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