Single women who take part in regular social activities have lower blood pressure, research finds.
However, social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of high blood pressure in women.
High blood pressure — known to doctors as hypertension — is a risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among women.
The study found that widowed, socially inactive women living on their own were at the highest risk of hypertension.
Dr Annalijn Conklin, study co-author, said:
“Among older adults, social isolation is the largest known risk factor for mortality, equal only to smoking.
Less well known is how social isolation affects men and women differently, or how it affects biomarkers of longevity.
Our research indicates that women, in particular, are more likely to be hypertensive when they experience isolation in middle and older age.”
The study included data from almost 30,000 people aged 45 to 85 in Canada.
The results showed that women without a partner who had fewer than three social activities per month were at the highest risk of hypertension.
Dr Conklin said:
“Among women, the increase in blood pressure that was associated with the lack of social ties was similar to that seen with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use, increased sodium diets pollution or weight gain.
This represents a significant women-specific risk factor for heart disease or stroke.”
Among men, the results were quite different.
Those who had a large social network and shared their home with others had higher blood pressure.
Men who lived alone and had fewer social ties had lower blood pressure.
Dr Conklin said:
“Taken with our previous research, our new findings underline how social isolation affects health in men and women differently.
At a time when COVID-19 is forcing us to limit our social interactions, it’s important for those working in health care and public health to encourage older women, in particular, to find new ways to be socially active.”
The study was published in the Journal of Hypertension (Zeinab et al., 2020).