Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

One Trick to Lowering Heart Risk: Friends Have Benefits

YOU KNOW OF THE CARDIOVASCULAR PERILS of smoking, not getting physical activity, excessive weight, insufficient sleep, and drinking too much alcohol. But did you know that connecting with others can benefit your heart and brain?

In the United States, the ten leading causes of death are:

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer
  3. Accidents
  4. Chronic lung diseases
  5. Stroke
  6. Alzheimer disease
  7. Diabetes
  8. Kidney disease
  9. Flu and pneumonia
  10. Suicide

Cardiovascular disease — Scope of the problem

These ten top causes of mortality represent 73 percent of all deaths occurring in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death among high-income countries and is projected to be the leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.

We have made significant progress in identifying risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. The INTERHEART study looked at 27,000 cases and controls from 52 countries, with researchers concluding this:

Over 90 percent of the risk for heart attack (myocardial infarction) may be explained by nine potentially changeable risk factors.

Photo by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

The myocardial infarction (MI) risk factors include apolipoprotein B/apolipoprotein A ratio, smoking, diabetes, hypertension, abdominal obesity, psychosocial factors, fruit/vegetable consumption, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.

Modify these individual risk factors, and you may significantly reduce your risk of having a cardiovascular event. Today, I want to add one more item to our risk reduction list. Today we look at how having good interpersonal relationships can drop your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Cardiovascular disease and social relationships

Individuals who have satisfying social connections with others tend to recover more quickly from significant health scares such as heart attacks. Create a social web, and you are more likely to live longer.

Here’s some proof:

Swedish researchers followed 13,600 adults for three years. The investigators discovered that having few or no close friends increases the chance of having a first-time heart attack by 1.5 times.

How might friends help us to dodge heart attacks? First, social support can help lower our stress levels. Unhealthy stress levels can facilitate inflammation in our arteries, triggering atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), heart attack, and stroke.

Physical touch can have an impact, too. A 2018 study found that receiving a hug relieved negative emotions such as stress. Positive and welcome physical touch can have health benefits.

Moreover, when you experience stress, friends can channel us towards a more healthy reaction. Having friends helps us to drop our pulse and blood pressure.

Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

Still, not all friendships are healthy. A joint study from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah (USA) revealed that ambivalent and unpredictable friendships could make you ill. These suboptimal relationships can raise our blood pressure.

Finally, we are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors if we have a network of family and friends. A rich social fabric makes it more likely that we will exercise regularly, quit smoking, and eat fruits and vegetables.

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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