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May 28, 2014 10:38 AM EDT

Social Networks May Promote, Detract From Good Health

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Three recent studies published by the American Psychological Association have linked social networks to better health in older adults.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Pennsylvania State University found that having regular positive interactions with family and friends and being involved in several different social networks can help older adults be healthier, according to the new research.

"Close connections with others are likely to promote but can also sometimes detract from good health by shaping daily behavior that directly affects physical health," Lynn M. Martire, researcher from the Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. . "In some cases, the behavior may have to do with physical activity and in others, it might be related to diet or managing a chronic disease, such as diabetes."

In another study, "Negative Social Interactions and Incident Hypertension among Older Adults," Rodlescia S. Sneedand Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University found that negative social interactions were associated with a greater risk for hypertension among women and individuals between the ages of 51 and 64. Excessive demands, criticism and disappointment were examples of negative social interactions.

Senedand said these kinds of unpleasant encounters could be linked to hypertension in older adults because of their psychological effects, such as depression and general unhappiness, according to the study. Negative social interactions have also been linked to harmful coping behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and less physical activity, the study said.

Another recent study, "Social Relationships, Leisure Activity and Health in Older Adults," Po-Ju Chang, Linda Wray and Yeqiang Lin of  Pennsylvania State University found that Social networks are associated with more involvement in leisure activities, which in turn, can lead to better health in older adults. Leisure activities, defined as an activity not involving pay, could be as ordinary as home maintenance or cooking.

Martire, said the influence of social relationships on mortality risk is comparable to that of smoking and alcohol consumption, according to previous research.

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