A new study suggests that an unhappy marriage could wreak havoc on your cardiovascular health.
Researchers examined five years of data from married men and women, ages 57 to 85. People with spouses who were negative or critical were more likely to have heart health issues – women suffered more than men – than those supportive partners. This effect worsened with age.
They then compared heart health to how these adults said they felt about their marriages. Wives and husbands (who were not married to each other) answered questions about how close they felt to their spouses, how happy their marriages were, and how demanding and critical they felt their spouses were.
Theory: Relationship stress intensifies over time, and heart disease is harder to overcome in those who are older and more frail.
It’s one of the first to take a nationally-representative sample of adults and examine the impact of marriage quality on heart health over time.
This from a study of nearly 1,200 married American men and women by researchers at Michigan State University, East Lansing, published in Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Being in an unhappy marriage can cause stress, which has a direct link with cardiovascular health. And those effects accumulate. “It’s not like you have contact with your spouse and the next day you have heart disease,” Hui Liu, a Michigan State University sociologist, said. “It really takes time. That may explain why it’s stronger for older people. Your body will remember the effect.”
Such marriages can also push you toward unhealthy and harmful habits, like drinking a lot or smoking.
But why is it that women were hurt even more by unhappiness in a marriage? Liu said it’s possible that women are more likely to internalize their feelings, feel depressed and be more sensitive than the men in their relationships. They also found that when women were sick with heart disease, it lowered the quality of a marriage, but not when men were sick. Liu said women are more likely to serve in a caregiver role for their sick husbands and be more sensitive to not exacerbating stress, but husbands may not be as sensitive about the relationship when their wives are sick.
While a lot of marriage counseling may focus on younger couples, the study authors emphasize that older couples would be wise to pay attention to the qualities of their marriages, too. Their hearts may very well depend upon doing so. “But these results show that marital quality is just as important at older ages, even when the couple has been married 40 or 50 years,” Liu said.
A happy marriage, of course, isn’t the only way to a healthy heart. Cardiovascular health begins with your diet. Start by cutting back on your salt-intake. Consuming too much can lead to high blood pressure, which is the leading cause of risk of death for women in the U.S. Most Americans should eat fewer than 2,300 milligrams of salt, which means almost all of us should cut back on sodium, according to the CDC.
You can also change your diet to include more heart-friendly foods like oatmeal, salmon, avocado, and berries. Beefing up your green veggie intake with more spinach and soy beans can help as well. And go ahead and indulge in a glass of wine every now and then. Research suggests the tannins in red wine might help reduce the risk of heart disease and moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer a heart attack.
Another key to a healthy heart is exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week. Alternatively, 25 minutes of high-intensity exercise three days per week, in addition to muscle strengthening exercises two days each week can also help to prevent heart disease. So get out there and swim, run, bike, jog, whatever it takes to get your heart healthy and pumping.
Copyright © 2015 – Hui Liu, a Michigan State University sociologist. You can contact her at: http://Sociology.MSU.edu/faculty/profile/liu-hui/.
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