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Marriage tied to better heart health in seniors

February 4, 2013

Tying the knot may not seem like it's an important part of healthy aging, but the results of a new study from Finland suggest that older adults who are married are at a significantly lower risk for heart attack. The findings, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, discovered that the relationship holds true across all age groups.

To analyze the link between marriage and heart health, researchers looked at heart attack statistics from between 1993 and 2002. During that period, the team found there were 15,330 cases of acute coronary syndromes (ACS), the name given to both fatal and non-fatal heart attacks, among the group. For the entire population of men, the 28-day mortality rate was between 60 and 168 percent higher for those who were unmarried. There were similar findings for women of all generations as well.

The results held true when applied to the older generation. Specifically, researchers found that the mortality rate for married women between 65 and 74-years-old was about 247 per 100,000 people. For unmarried women, that figure rose to 493 per 100,000 people. What's the cause for the interesting relationship? Scientists can't say for sure, but they have a few theories. 

Among the most compelling hypotheses is one that claims married people tend to be more likely to follow a healthy lifestyle for seniors, such as eating better food and living a more social life. Not only that, but they may enjoy better care once they leave the hospital thanks to a spouse's presence.

"We found that a larger proportion of married and cohabiting men received reperfusion therapy at acute stage which may contribute to their better survival after hospitalization," the authors wrote.

While it remains to be seen what impact these findings could have on senior health, the results do underscore the importance of heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with about 600,000 deaths caused each year by the condition.