(Photo: Reuters/Luke MacGregor)
A happy marriage can lengthen the lives of heart patients, according to researchers who suggest that supportive spouses can provide encouragement to make it through tough lifestyle changes.
Researchers at the University of Rochester say a happy marriage is just as important as healthy habits.
The study confirmed that if someone undergoes coronary bypass surgery, they are more than three times as likely to be alive 15 years later if they are in a happy marriage compared to their unmarried counterparts.
“There is something in a good relationship that helps people stay on track,” said Dr. Kathleen King, lead author for the University of Rochester study.
"The most dramatic thing to me is that just being married, especially if you had a happy marriage, had that big an effect 15 years later.”
In a key indication that marriage influences long-term survival.
The results were stunning to researchers who found that more than 80 percent of those having clogged arteries replaced with grafted vessels that were happily wedded patients were more than three times likelier to be alive than those who were widowed, divorced, separated or single.
“In fact, the effect of marital satisfaction is every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity, and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Harry Reis, co-author of the study.
However, the magnitude of that marriage bonus differed along gender lines.
Men who underwent bypass surgery lived longer by virtue of simply being married, regardless of how happy or miserable the union.
Women's survival after the surgery depended more on the quality of the marriage.
In other words, happily married women were nearly four times likelier to be alive at the 15-year mark than those who were going it alone. An unhappy marriage didn't do much to help women live longer after bypass surgery.
“Wives need to feel satisfied in their relationships to reap a health dividend,” Reis said.
“But the payoff for the marital bliss is even greater for women than men.”
Some studies have suggested that marriage is not beneficial for women, but this research contradicts those results.
“A good marriage gets under your skin whether you are male or female,” Reis said.
King and her colleagues wrote in the study that was published online this week in the journal Health Psychology.
The researchers tracked 225 University of Rochester heart patients following cardiac bypass. Fifteen years later, 124 were still alive. Most of the patients, who ranged in age from 33 to 80, were white. Nearly 77 percent were men.
Unlike some previous studies examining the effect of marriage on well being, the new study also took into account marital happiness.
A year after their operations, study subjects were asked to rate their relationship on a scale ranging from "very unhappy" to "perfectly happy." Highly satisfying marriages seemed to significantly benefit long-term survival.