Valentine’s Day is a time when many of us reflect on the importance of our closest relationships. Whether they include family, friends or a significant other, science is not silent on the impact these relationships have on our health. A review of 148 studies reveals that strong social relationships are associated with a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival, regardless of medical condition. Other studies link low social support to an increased risk and incidence of heart disease. The newest research, however, explores the effect our most intimate relationships—with a romantic partner—have on heart health.
A study that looked at more than 6,000 people reports that being single is associated with heart disease. Specifically, people who were single had a 45 percent higher rate of death from heart disease than those who were married. A striking finding in this study was that even though the reason for being unmarried varied among the participants—some people had never married, others were divorced, separated or widowed—the risks were consistently lower in married people. From these results, the overall benefit of the spousal relationship on heart health seems clear.
Many factors may account for the positive effect of marriage on heart health, including:
- improved social support,
- a less sedentary lifestyle, and
- increased motivation to make healthy lifestyle changes.
The quality of marital relationships over time also influences heart disease risk factors. Men who described their relationships as “improving” had a lowering of risk factors compared to those in marriages categorized as “consistently good” or “deteriorating.”
In other words, marriage is generally good for your heart health and even better when you work to improve that relationship over time. So as you think about those closest to your heart on Valentine’s Day, do your heart a favor and take your sweetheart on a date.
Shawn Bender, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Missouri and a research health scientist at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital.