Can Your Social Ties Protect You from Heart Disease?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, General Health, Health Advice
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

The impact of social ties on heart disease is extremely powerful. This was first revealed in 1980’s when the Swedish Gothenberg studies found that middle-aged men who perceive a lack of social ties were more likely to develop coronary artery disease and die prematurely of a heart attack.  

Specifically, this study looked at 50-year-old men born in 1933, measuring both "attachment" (social support from very close persons) and "social integration" (an extended network of social support).  It was also noted back then that smoking and lack of social support were the two leading risk factors for developing coronary artery disease in this group. That's interesting since smoking and hypertension are the two prominent risk factors for women. 

After years of training in both Gestalt and bioenergetics psychotherapies, and conducting research for my book Heartbreak and Heart Disease, I am well aware that having strong and healthy emotional ties are good for your heart. Plus, I’ve seen that the heartbreak of longing for a love that is unattainable is more than just a metaphor. Just consider the number of spouses who die after losing a life partner.

I also did my own clinical testing on this as well at a psychotherapy workshop in 1986. We observed that women who networked and shared emotions with one another had lower levels of stress hormones (catecholamine and cortisol) than the men who kept their feelings to themselves. Most significantly, 80% of those men had heart disease, whereas the women did not. It is clear that when you discharge the body of emotional turmoil, the body's stress hormone factory is quieted—and that is cardio-protective.

The take-away message is that fostering strong bonds with family and friends is good for your heart and your longevity. Let's face it: having happy, close relationships with others makes the quality of our life better. So it's no wonder that healthy social ties can add quantity to our lives as well.

I hope you stay more connected with me by following my blogs and e-letters, as well as my Facebook page. Social media is definitely one way to share our lives with one another. You can also connect with me on heartmdinstitute.com or sign up to receive my "tweets." I may avoid overuse of WiFi technologies, but Ethernet connections are a safe way to stay connected.

It’s also important to maintain strong face-to-face social ties, reaching out to people that may live in your own neighborhood, or work alongside you in your job. You can also reach out to others through clubs, volunteering, or something as simple as chatting with the checker at the grocery store. 

Now it’s your turn: Do you use social networking on the internet to enhance your feeling of staying connected with others?

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