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Study: Married People Have Healthier Hearts

02 Feb 2013

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Happy married couple

Being married is good for your heart. Fringe benefits of tying the knot can go way beyond good crystal and a tax write-off, says a new study. That's because being married can actually reduce your risk of heart attack and help extend your life, especially if you're a woman.

The study researchers, in Finland, headed by Dr. Aino Lammintausta of Turku University Hospital, came to their conclusions after collecting data on more than 15,300 people who suffered heart attacks between 1993 and 2002. About 7,700 had died within 28 days of their attack.

Overall, both married men and women fared best: Unhitched men were 58 to 66 percent more likely to have a heart attack than marrieds, and 60 to 168 percent more likely to die as a result.

For single women, the risk of heart attack was 60 to 65 percent higher than that of their married counterparts—with a whopping 71 to 175 percent higher chance of it resulting in death.

Though the findings are pretty clear, researchers are not exactly sure why. They surmise that having strong social support, better health habits (perhaps thanks to nagging spouses?) and less depression could be among the reasons. And those ideas could be the most important aspects of the study, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, director of the NYU Center for Women's Health.

"It's really important to bring out the fact that social support is an important issue when it comes to heart health," Goldberg, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, told Yahoo! Shine. "We've become good about controlling blood pressure, getting cholesterol levels checked, but I think more has to be done around doctors asking patients about their psychosocial health, and who they have to rely on."

She also noted that research has found that people suffering from social isolation have an imbalance in what's called the autonomic nervous system, and that the imbalances can cause higher heart rates that could lead to arrhythmia and high blood pressure.
While past studies have shown that being single or living solo increases the risk of heart disease for men, the new study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology on January 31, is noteworthy in that it's among the first to look at data of both men and women. And in the results, Goldberg added, "Women look particularly vulnerable." She suggested a new study focus on the benefits to heart health for women who are in strong relationships.

Married people might also be more likely to call an ambulance sooner than single people—and they seem to get better treatment from doctors, both in the hospital and after they're released, note the study's researchers. Finally, they might also be more vigilant about using preventative treatments, such as high blood pressure medications.

"All this says to me is that if you're living alone, you need to set up a support system for emergencies," Cindy Butler, head of the Seattle-based Alternatives to Marriage Project, told Yahoo! Shine. Butler, who has been active regarding social biases against single folks relating to issues like housing, taxes and adoption, points out that there are endless variables in a study like this one, and that, if done in the U.S., it would have to take into account how difficult and expensive it is for single people to have health insurance.

"The way it's all couched is, 'Oh, these poor single people,'" Butler added. "But what it really means is, take responsibility for your life the way that it is."

Tags: married couple, Wellbeing

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