Background The interplay between social connections, leisure engagement and health is well investigated, highlighting how social connections and leisure engagement affect health outcomes; and reciprocally, how these health factors predict leisure engagement and aspects of our social connections. However, there remains a gap in our understanding of how genetic propensity for psychological and neurological traits may also influence leisure engagement and social connections. This is important for research, as an individual’s genetic propensity might not only influence health outcomes but also influence the social factors that are known to benefit health outcomes too.
Methods In this study, we utilised the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), which is a large nationally representative sample of the English population aged ≥50 years. Polygenic propensity was measured using a polygenic score (PGS) approach. Eight independent exposure-wide regression analyses were run for social connection outcomes (loneliness, relationship strain, social support and contact with social network), and leisure engagement (group membership, volunteering, cultural engagement and hobbies). Fourteen PGSs for psychological traits (e.g., depression and neuroticism) and neurological traits (e.g., ADHD), were used as predictors, and each PGS was run independently within each exposure-wide analysis. Analyses adjusted for age, age2, sex, and 10 principal components accounting for ancestry; Bonferroni correction was applied due to multiple testing. To aid interpretability, each PGS was standardized to a mean of 0 (standard deviation (SD) of 1).
Results A one SD increase in depression-PGS was associated with both higher loneliness (B=0.10, 95%CI=0.06–0.14, p<0.001) and relationship strain (B=0.09, 95%CI=0.05–0.13, p<0.001), as well as lower odds of group membership (OR=0.91, 95%CI=0.87–0.96, p<0.001) and cultural engagement (OR=0.93, 95%CI=0.88–0.97, p=0.003). A one SD increase in neuroticism-PGS was also associated with higher loneliness (B=0.08, 95%CI=0.04–0.12, p<0.001) and greater relationship strain (B=0.10, 95%CI=0.06–0.14, p<0.001), as well as lower odds of volunteering (OR=0.92, 95%CI=0.87–0.97, p<0.001). Lastly, a one SD increase in ADHD-PGS was associated with lower odds of group membership (OR=0.87, 95%CI=0.82–0.91, p<0.001), volunteering (OR=0.90, 95%CI=0.85–0.95, p<0.001), and cultural engagement (OR=0.88, 95%CI=0.84–0.93, p<0.001).
Conclusion Results indicate that an individual’s polygenic propensity for depression, neuroticism and ADHD predict their social connections and leisure engagement, thus highlighting that common genetic markers for major mental and neurological health outcomes influence social connections and leisure engagement, potentially indicating a shared genetic overlap between them. Overall, this highlights the importance of considering the role of genetic influence when looking at the interplay between social connections, leisure engagement and health in future research.
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