Married folks have lower risk of heart disease

Teresa Tanoos's picture
A happy marriage helps keep your heart healthy.
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Being married is good for your heart in more ways than one, according to a new study that found married people are less likely to have heart problems than their single, divorced or widowed counterparts.

Over 3.5 million Americans were involved in the study, which showed that married folks suffered fewer types of heart or blood vessel problems regardless of age, gender and other risk factors for heart disease like high cholesterol, obesity or diabetes.

Study leader Dr. Jeffrey Berger, a preventive cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said that the reason married couples have fewer heart problems may be due to having a spouse to encourage them to take better care of their health.

Co-study leader Dr. Carlos Alviar, a cardiology fellow who conducted research with Dr. Berger, said that their study is the largest yet to explore marriage and heart health.

Earlier research has focused mainly on a comparison of heart problems between married and single folks, while failing to take into account other segments of the population, such as those who were divorced or widowed. This study, however, looked at a wide variety of health problems, ranging from risk of stroke and problems with circulation to abdominal aneurysms and blocked arteries.

Participants in the study completed questionnaires about their health pertaining to various tests from an Ohio company, Life Line Screening Inc., which screened for certain kinds of cancer, as well as a variety of other diseases and health conditions that major medical groups typically don’t recommend, but that can still be obtained and purchased by individuals for themselves.

Dr. Berger said that both he and Dr. Alviar do not have any financial link to Life Line, nor are they endorsing the company’s tests that screen for various health conditions. Life Line simply provided its data to the Society of Vascular Surgery and New York University in an effort to promote research.

The data offered by Life Line came from the results of screening tests on adults between the years of 2003 and 2008. Among the adults, two-thirds were women who, on average, were 64 years old – and 80 percent of them were white.

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The adult participants provided information related to their health and lifestyle, such as whether they smoked, were obese, exercised regularly, and had any family history of disease, including diabetes. The researchers also took their blood pressure and conducted other measurements related to their health.

As a result, the researchers found that those who were married had a 5 percent lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease, compared with their single counterparts – and those who were widowed had a 3 percent higher chance of developing it, compared with divorced individuals who had a 5 percent higher risk of heart-related disease than married people.

The findings of the study also revealed that marriage appeared to provide the most benefit to individuals who were younger than age 50, as their risk of developing cardiovascular disease was 12 percent lower than it was for single people of the same age.

Meanwhile, one of the major heart risks – smoking – was highest among those who were divorced, while it was lowest among those who were widowed.

Another major heart risk – obesity – was also more prevalent among both single and divorced people, whereas those who were widowed had the highest blood pressure, along with more diabetes and poor physical fitness.

Although the researchers had no knowledge regarding the length of any study participant’s marriage, or the length of time a participant had been divorced or widowed, the findings of the study clearly indicate that an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease cannot be measured by the physical body only.

Cardiologist Dr. Vera Bittner, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says there are also other factors that affect one’s risk of heart-related disease, including stress and social factors.

Dr. Bittner, who serves as head of the heart disease prevention committee of the American College of Cardiology, also said that the results of the study don’t really offer a “clear explanation” for why marriage lowers the risk of heart problems. But she added that one reason may have to do with a spouse being more likely to encourage their mate to take care of their health and keep up with their doctor’s appointments.

The results of the study were released today, prior to presentation at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting this weekend in Washington.

SOURCE: NYU Langone Medical Center, Association of Marital Status with Vascular Disease in different Arterial Territories: A Population Based Study of Over 3.5 Million Subjects, Carlos L. Alviar, M.D., et al. Published March 28, 2014.

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