Are the recent headlines true? Can being married really improve your heart health? As it turns out, yes—a healthy marriage may indeed be good for the ol’ ticker.
According to a recent nationwide study conducted by researchers at the NYU Langone Medical Center, our marital status does, indeed, affect our risk of heart disease. Overall, researchers surveyed 3.5 million U.S. men and women between the ages of 21 and 99. Here is a breakdown of their key findings, presented last month at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Session & Expo:
- Being married carried a 5 percent lower risk of having any cardiovascular disease than being single
- Widowed and divorced people were, respectively, 3 percent and 5 percent more likely to suffer from any kind of cardiovascular disease, including peripheral artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and coronary artery disease
- Younger married people, those under age 50, had a 12 percent lower odds of disease than younger single people
- Older couples, between the ages of 51 and 60, had 7 percent reduced risk, while those above 60 had approximately 4 percent lower odds of disease
- For risk factors of cardiovascular disease, smoking was highest among divorced people (at 31 percent) and lowest in widowed people (at 22 percent); and obesity was most common in single and divorced people (at 31 percent and 30 percent, respectively). Hypertension, diabetes and being sedentary were most common in widowed people (at 77 percent, 13 percent, and 41 percent, respectively).i
It makes sense, said cardiologist and CBS News contributor Dr. Tara Narula in a recent segment. “We’ve known about this concept of a marriage advantage since almost the late 1800s when it was first described to improve your overall survival,” Narula stated. “And now we’re recognizing that it may be as important as traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
Essentially, having a good marriage means having a spouse who has your back—one that encourages you to make healthier dietary and lifestyle choices such as eating better, exercising, quitting smoking, and even taking your daily meds. Spouses also offer a solid support system during stressful times and may even notice early signs and symptoms of heart disease risk that their partners may not notice on their own.
However, experts like Narula stress that the quality of the marriage is important, since marital distress can often lead to higher blood pressure, higher stress levels and even depression—all of which can negatively impact heart health.