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Health behaviors, social networks, and healthy aging: Cross-sectional evidence from the Nurses' Health Study


Physical function is a significant component of health-related quality of life among older adults. Potential correlates of healthy aging, including health behaviors and social network characteristics, were examined among 56,436 US women aged 55–72 in 1992. Healthy aging was assessed by maintenance of physical function measured by four sub-scales of the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form (SF)-36 Health Survey: physical functioning; role limitations; freedom from bodily pain; and vitality. Individual health behaviors, defined as current smoking, alcohol consumption, sedentary behavior, and being overweight each contributed to significant decrements in functioning across all age-groups. After controlling for these health behaviors and other confounders (age, race, education, and co-morbid conditions), elements of a woman's social network were significantly correlated with functional status. Strong predictors of high functioning among older women were having close friends and relatives and presence of a confidant. For example, the absence of a confidant was associated with a 4.44 point reduction in physical functioning (95% CI: −7.0, −1.9), and a 5.68 point reduction in vitality (95% CI: −7.9, −3.4). These effects were comparable in magnitude to those observed among heavy smokers, or women in the highest category of body mass index.

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Michael, Y.L., Colditz, G.A., Coakley, E. et al. Health behaviors, social networks, and healthy aging: Cross-sectional evidence from the Nurses' Health Study. Qual Life Res 8, 711–722 (1999).

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  • Health-related quality of life
  • Life-course
  • SF-36
  • Social networks
  • Successful aging