Marriage is good for your heart, and not just in the Valentine’s Day, romantic box-of-chocolates kind of way. Here’s why—and how you can reap the most benefits.
Here’s a fact: Married men experience healthier blood pressure changes than single men. According to one study, the chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke doubles within the first 30 days after a spouse dies. Why? Some researchers say it’s because grieving partners may be less likely to take their medications in the month following a spouse’s death. But there’s also evidence that losing a spouse is associated with harmful changes in blood pressure, heart rate and other physiological functions.
It’s not enough to be married, though. One study using computed axial tomography, or CT scan, showed that those who felt they had a supportive spouse had less calcium buildup in their arterial walls, meaning they were at lower risk of having heart troubles. Couples that were ambivalent about how supportive their spouses were showed higher calcium levels in their vessels.
Though many of these studies use married couples as their subjects, the findings extend beyond the bounds of matrimony. The simple truth: Good support systems make you healthier. While it’s not always clear what mechanism is at work, there’s enough data to show that those in supportive relationships have better health outcomes—both because of biological changes when stress is lessened and because of the positive behavioral changes that a partner influences.
So what’s that mean for you? Talk to the people who make up your support system, whether they’re your romantic partner, a family member or a friend. Check in with them often. Ask what will support them and let them know what will support you. It’s good for your heart—in more ways than one.
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This article originally appeared on Sharecare.com, the leading online health and wellness social platform.