Women who have satisfying relationships with their spouses, friends, family, and coworkers have lower chances of developing multiple chronic diseases, according to a new study.

The findings revealed that the lower the level of satisfaction, the higher the odds of multiple chronic diseases, and vice versa. The team credits about 22 percent of this association to socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and menopausal status combined.

Social relationships have been linked to many individual chronic conditions, including depression, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. However, there is limited evidence on whether social relationships could lower the multimorbidity risk common among many older women.

To address the knowledge gap, researchers from the University of Queensland used data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health spanning over two decades. They involved a total of 13,714 Australian women between the ages of 45 and 50 and tracked them with questionnaires eight times every three years from 1996 to 2016. 

The team measured the women’s level of satisfaction with their relationships—partners, family members, friends, coworkers, and social activities—to assess how their individual and combined effects influence this risk. 

Participants were then asked to rate their extent of satisfaction with five types of relationships using a 4-point scale. Each response ranged from 0 (very dissatisfied) to 3 (very satisfied).

They then assessed the participants to see if they developed any of the following: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, osteoporosis, arthritis, depression, cancer, and anxiety.

Multimorbidity was defined by the team as when the woman transitions from being healthy to having two or more of the above conditions, or already has two or more with an additional condition.

In the end, the researchers included a total of 7,694 women in their final study. 

During the follow-up period of 20 years, about 4,484 (58 percent) of women had developed multimorbidity. These women were more likely to be smokers, have a lower schooling level, be overweight or obese, have low physical activity levels, find it difficult to live off their income, or have induced menopause through surgical means.

Those with a lower score (5 or less – very dissatisfied) were two times more likely to accumulate multiple chronic diseases than those reporting the highest levels of satisfaction (15 – very satisfied). What is more, it held even after adjusting for influential factors. 

Although, after including the five types of social relationships, the team observed that the link weakened, remaining significant for all but friendships. Similar results were also obtained after the study authors analyzed each condition separately. 

Above all, this is the first study to provide strong evidence of the connection between satisfaction with a person’s social relationship types and the buildup of multimorbidity.

Findings from this study will be beneficial to women, as they may help counsel and motivate them to begin or preserve high-quality and diverse social relationships throughout the middle to early old age. 

Plus, the researchers suggest a person’s social connections be included in clinical practice and be considered a public health priority to assist in preventing and treating chronic disease.

Written by

Medically Reviewed by