Women who are socially isolated are at increased risk for high blood pressure, researchers report. But men, not so much.
Scientists used data on 28,238 Canadian men and women aged 45 to 85 who are participating in a large ongoing study on aging.
The researchers found that single women were 28 percent higher risk of high blood pressure compared to married women, divorced women 21 percent higher risk, and widowed women 33 percent higher risk.
Social connections were also important. Compared to the quarter of women with the largest social networks – between 220 and 573 people – those in the lowest quarter with fewer than 85 connections were 15 percent more likely to have high blood pressure.
The associations were different for men and generally weaker. Men who lived alone were at lower risk of developing high blood pressure than men with partners, but the size of men's social networks or their participation in social activities was not significantly associated with high blood pressure.
The study in the Journal of Hypertension looked at many factors that affect blood pressure, including age, education, smoking, alcohol use, and depression.
Senior writer Annalijn I. Conklin, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, said the main finding is that social bonds seem more meaningful to women than to men. "Social bonds are important to cardiovascular health," she said, "and they are more important to women."