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[LIFESAVING] Social connections linked to slower rate of aging

Socially isolated people are more likely to show signs of being biologically older than their age and more likely to die from a variety of causes, according to a study from Mayo Clinic. The findings suggest that social connection plays an important role in overall physical health and longevity, and should be addressed as a necessary part of the social determinants of health.

The researchers compared the Social Network Index and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled electrocardiogram (AI-ECG)-predicted age gaps of more than 280,000 adults who received outpatient care at Mayo between 2019 - 2022.

An AI-ECG model was used to estimate biological age, which was then compared to chronological age. Previous research has shown that the AI-ECG age prediction represents the heart's biological age. A positive age gap indicates accelerated biological aging, while a negative value suggests slower biological aging.

Researchers assessed social isolation using the Social Network Index, which asks six multiple-choice questions related to these areas of social interaction: belonging to any social club or organization; frequency of participating in social activities per year, of talking on the telephone with family and friends per week, attending church or religious services per year, getting together with friends or family in person per week; and marital status or living with a partner.

Each response was given a score of 0 or 1, and total scores ranged from 0 to 4, representing varying degrees of social isolation.

Participants with a higher Social Network Index score — indicating a better social network — had a smaller AI-ECG age gap, and that held true across all gender and age groups. In addition, social network status significantly influenced the risk of death. During the two-year follow-up period, approximately 5% of the participants died. Those who had low social index scores less than or equal to 1 had the highest risk of death compared to other groups.

Furthermore, non-white participants had higher average age gaps than their white counterparts, especially those with lower Social Network Index scores.

“We know that people can change their behavior — have more social interaction, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, get adequate sleep, etc.,” said senior author Amir Lerman, MD.  “Making and sustaining these changes may go a long way toward improving overall health."

To read the full article, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Advances, click here

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