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What effects does our social network have on our health?

The article gives an overview of recent research that looks at the role of an individual’s social network (through the size and overall quality of their social interactions) on their physical health. They looked at the onset and management of hypertension and diabetes, as well as pulmonary function, lifestyle behaviors and physical health conditions and symptoms. Overall, they looked at how an individuals close connections are linked to their daily and physical functioning as well as chronic disease possibilities. In their study, they found common themes. For example, they found that “connections with close others and interactions with these ties likely promote health through shaping daily health behavior choice.” Simply stated, they found that the people closest to us or we closely interact with play a role in determining the health choices that we make.

But how does this all fit into what we have learned in Networks. Well basically, if you were to map out your personal social network, indicating strong and weak ties in reference to your close interactions, you would find that these people are likely to have similar health conditions and symptoms to you. Which could easily be due to the fact that you and these people share similar daily health activities and lifestyles. The article also considers the size, characteristics, as well as the interaction with social partners in an individual’s social network in connection to health behaviors. Interestingly enough, they found that “there may be risk associated with a shrinking social network in adulthood.” Apparently, as you get older losing friends may have an effect on your health as “negative interactions in close relationships put older adults at risk for hypertension.”  While “expanding one’s network of friends in mid-life and late life may protect against the losses experienced with aging.” While these are interesting concepts and possibilities, there is no proof to saying that our social networks are definitively effecting our health in a positive or negative way but there is some evidence pointing to it as an overall possibility. What the research does show in the many cases reviewed in the article is that our social ties can determine our engagement in health promoting behaviors or health endangering behaviors and activities.


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September 2015