Health and wellness

Risk of dying from heart disease, stroke reduced by marriage, study finds, and effect can be significant

People who were divorced, widowed or single were 42 per cent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who were married, the study of 2 million people found

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 7:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 7:30pm

Even if marriage is sometimes more a bed of nails than roses, growing old with a partner may help ward off heart disease and stroke, researchers have found.

A far-reaching survey of research conducted over the last two decades covering more than two million people aged 42 to 77 found that being wed significantly reduced the risk of both afflictions.

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The study, reported in the medical journal Heart, examined ethnically varied populations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia, adding weight to the results.

Compared to people who were married, the divorced, widowed or never wed were 42 per cent more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and 16 per cent more likely to have coronary heart disease, the study found.

The risk of dying was likewise higher for the non-married, by 42 per cent from coronary heart disease and by 55 per cent from stroke.

The results were nearly the same for both genders, except for stroke, to which men were more susceptible.

“These findings may suggest that marital status should be considered in the risk assessment for cardiovascular disease,” concluded a team led by Chun Wai-wong, a researcher at Royal Stoke Hospital’s department of cardiology in the UK.

Four-fifths of all cardiovascular disease can be attributed to a proven set of “risk factors”: advanced age, being a man, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes.

Marriage, in other words, could be an important share of the missing 20 per cent.

More precisely, living together – with or without a wedding band – is probably the key factor, if indeed conjugal status has any impact at all.

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Most of the 34 studies Wong and colleagues reviewed did not identify couples out of wedlock or same-sex unions, so it was not possible to know whether, statistically, such arrangements were the equivalent of being wed.

Because the study was observational rather than based on a controlled experiment – something scientists can do with mice but not humans – no clear conclusions could be drawn as to cause-and-effect.

That leaves open the question of why marriages may be “protective”.

“There are various theories,” the researchers said in a statement.

Having someone around to take care of one’s health problems and keep track of one’s medicines is probably a plus, as are two incomes or pensions instead of one.

More intangibly, not living alone is thought to be good for morale, and for neural stimulation. People living in couples, earlier research has shown, also have lower rates of dementia.