- People who are married are 5% less likely to have diseased arteries
- They are also 19% less likely to have peripheral arterial disease
- Link between artery health and marriage particularly clear in under 50s
Being married puts you less at risk of heart trouble, a major study shows.
The research, which involved 3.5million people, is the first to compare wedded couples with those who are either single, divorced or bereaved.
It found that marriage is protective of both men and women’s heart health, reducing the chance of cardiovascular disease by 5 per cent.
In particular, their risk of developing peripheral arterial disease – which affects blood supply to the legs – was 19 per cent lower.
They were also nine per cent less likely to get cerebrovascular disease – that which disrupts blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke.
And, they were eight per cent less likely to get an abdominal aortic aneurysm – which can cause the body’s main blood vessel ruptures.
The benefits are even greater for younger marrieds under 50, who have a 12 per cent lower risk.
Jeffrey Berger, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and joint study leader, said: ‘It might be that if someone is married, they have a spouse who encourages them to take better care of themselves.
‘If one of my patients is recently widowed or divorced, I’m increasingly vigilant about examining that patient for signs of any type of cardiovascular disease and depression.’
Researchers examined health questionnaires from people who sought medical screening or scans from 2003 through 2008.
Their average age was 64, nearly two thirds were female and 80 per cent were white.
They gave information on smoking, diabetes, family history, obesity, exercise and other factors. The study also found that:
- Widows and widowers had a 3 per cent greater risk of heart disease;
- Smoking was highest among divorced people and lowest in widowed ones;
- Obesity was most common in those single or divorced;
- Widowed people had more chance of high blood pressure, diabetes and inadequate exercise.
The findings held true at any age, for women as well as for men, and regardless of other heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol or diabetes.
Married people are 19 per cent less likely to have peripheral arterial disease – affects blood flow to the legs
Dr Carlos Alviar, a cardiologist and joint study leader, said it was the largest ever investigation into marriage and heart health.
‘The association between marriage and a lower likelihood of vascular disease is stronger among younger subjects, which we did not anticipate,’ he said.
The findings were released yesterday ahead of a presentation at a meeting of the heart disease prevention committee of the American College of Cardiology in Washington.
Previous studies usually compared married people to single people and lacked information on those who were divorced and widowed.
Researchers often looked solely at heart attacks, whereas the latest study included a full range of problems – from clogged arteries and abdominal aneurysms to stroke risks and circulation problems.
The results drive home the message that heart risks can’t be judged by physical measures alone – social factors and stress also matter, according to Vera Bittner, a cardiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Previous research has shown that married people have better cancer survival rates and stronger bones
She said there was no clear explanation for the beneficial role of marriage but added: ‘You may be more willing to follow up with medical appointments, take recommended drugs, diet and exercise if you have a spouse.’
After adjusting for age, sex, race and other cardiovascular risk factors, marital status was found to be independently associated with cardiovascular disease.
The findings were consistent for both men and women across all four illnesses, and were particularly pronounced among the under 50s.
‘Of course, it is true not all marriages are created equal, but we would expect the size of this study population to account for variations in good and bad marriages’
The odds of coronary artery disease, the most common heart condition caused by a build-up of plaque, was also lower in married people compared with those who are single, divorced or widowed, but this was not statistically significant.
On the other hand, being divorced or widowed was associated with a greater likelihood of vascular disease compared with being single or married.
Widowers had a three per cent greater risk of any of the four conditions and were in seven per cent more danger of coronary artery disease.
Divorce was also linked with a higher likelihood of any vascular disease.
Dr Alviar said: ‘These findings certainly should not drive people to get married, but it is important to know decisions regarding who one is with, why, and why not may have important implications for vascular health.’
The researchers analysed records from a database of participants across the U.S. who were aged from 21 to 102 and had been evaluated for cardiovascular diseases in a nationwide screening programme.
Demographic information and risk factors for illness, such as high blood pressure and whether they smoked, were obtained along with their marital status.
Their average age was 64 and 63 per cent were women.
Overall, 69.1 per cent (2.4 million) were married, 13 per cent (477,577) widowed, 8.3 per cent (292,670) single and nine per cent (319,321) divorced.
Dr Alviar added: ‘Of course, it is true not all marriages are created equal, but we would expect the size of this study population to account for variations in good and bad marriages.’