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Jul 20, 2018

Marriage Helps Protect the Heart

Study of more than 2 million adults finds that being married significantly reduces risk for heart attack, stroke and death.    

Marriage benefits the heart, based on a recent study that found individuals who were divorced, widowed or never married had up to 55% greater risk for heart disease, stroke and heart-related death than married adults.

Published in the British medical journal Heart, this study looked at the association between marital status and heart health. It included data from 34 studies, all of which collected information on marital status and key health outcomes.

Together, these studies included more than two million participants from a range of countries in Europe, North America, Scandinavia, the Middle East and Asia. The average age of participants was 59, and participants were followed for anywhere from one month to 34 years.

After analyzing all study data, researchers found that unmarried individuals were 42% more likely to develop heart disease or suffer a heart attack or stroke. They also had 43% greater odds of dying from heart disease and 55% greater odds of dying from stroke than married individuals.

In the study, “unmarried” was defined as anyone who was divorced, widowed or never married.

When looking into these specific groups, researchers found that being divorced was associated with increased risk of heart disease, while being widowed was associated with increased risk of stroke.

Researchers also found that unmarried individuals had greater risk of death following a heart attack than married adults.

Of course, authors note that simply being married is probably not what helps protect heart health. According to experts, it’s more likely that marriage affects how individuals use and access health care.

For example, it’s possible that married individuals are more likely to recognize and seek treatment for health problems earlier. Spouses might also help each other take medications as prescribed, which could improve health outcomes.

There are also additional lifestyle factors associated with marriage that could play a role in heart health, such as financial security, social support, and even mental health. Over time, these factors could influence health outcomes, although their long-term impact is less clear.

With future research, experts hope to better understand how marital status impacts heart health and to use that information to improve outcomes for patients.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does relationship status reduce the risk of a heart attack?
  • Being married—or even having a roommate—improves the chances of getting medical help in the event of an emergency rather than living alone. More importantly, however, experts believe that having a partner could explain the association between marital status and cardiovascular risk. Spouses often advocate for each other's health and serve as good support systems for making healthier choices.
  • How can I prevent heart disease?

  • The best ways to help prevent heart disease is by eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, quitting smoking (if a current smoker) and maintaining a healthy weight. Patients should also know their numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, which are important to heart health.

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