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Marital Quality Could Be Linked to Heart Health

If you were considering skipping out on a Valentine’s Day celebration with your special someone this year, you might want to think again. Several studies have linked human relationships to both health and happiness, but research now suggests an unhappy marriage could be breaking your heart in more than one way. In a study, sociology researchers discovered marriage quality might be linked to cardiovascular risk and heart health.

Using information from a national study of health and relationships, researchers analyzed responses from over 1,200 men and women ages 57 to 85 years. They looked at four different measures of cardiovascular health: hypertension; rapid heart rate; C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation and predictor of cardiovascular disease); and general cardiovascular events including heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. Marital quality was determined using a nine item scale that ultimately quantified the positive and negative elements of participants’ marriages. Participants were asked questions like how close they felt with their spouses, how happy they were in their relationships, and if they prefer spending free time with their spouses.

Results point to strong links between marital quality and heart health, especially in older women. All women saw an increase in hypertension with increased negative marital quality. However, among women ages 75 to 85, for each one unit increase in negative marital quality, risk of hypertension increased nearly 14 times. Odds of cardiovascular events shot up over 9 times. Conversely, a one unit increase in positive marital quality was matched by a 67% to 74% decrease in risk of hypertension and 52.29% fewer odds of cardiovascular events.

This study suggests both positive and negative aspects of marriage can have an impact on heart health. Even though associations were strongest in older women, this could be because it takes years to develop chronic disease, and because age can weaken immune function, which increases vulnerability to disease. Younger women may be experiencing the same marital stress, but may not see the same harmful results for years to come.

Experts suggest a few tips for strengthening spousal relationships and marriage, which might also help strengthen your heart:

Published February 1, 2015

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