Washington: Researchers have shown that unpleasant or demanding interpersonal encounters increase hypertension risk among older adults.
The study provides some of the first concrete evidence that negative social interactions not only influence psychological well-being but also physical health - in this case, blood pressure levels.
Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said this demonstrates how important social networks are as we age - constructing strong, positive relationships are beneficial to prolonged health.
For the study, Sneed and Cohen used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a multi-year survey of 1,502 healthy adults aged 50 and over.
In 2006, the frequency of negative interactions - exchanges or behaviors that involved excessive demands, criticism, disappointment or other unpleasantness - with their partners, children, other family members and friends was assessed by questionnaire. Blood pressure was measured at this assessment as well as four years later.
The results show that each increase in the total average negative social interaction score was associated with a 38 percent increased chance of developing hypertension over the four-year period. Younger older adults - those aged 51-64 - were also more affected than those 65 or older.
The researchers also found that the type of relationship matters. Negative interactions between friends and family led to an increase in hypertension risk while poor encounters with partners and children did not make a difference.
The study has been published in the journal Health Psychology.