Broken hearts aren't only a figments of soap operas and bad breakup songs. A new study shows that unhappy marriages may actually lead to literal heart problems.
The Michigan State University study looked at 1,200 men and women in their late 50s through mid 80s. The researchers surveyed the group on their marital satisfaction and cardiovascular health, along with lab tests surrounding strokes, heart attacks, rapid heart rates, and hypertension. They found that those who reported negative marital quality generally had more health problems with their hearts than those who reported marital satisfaction. Unfortunately, the reverse isn't always true. According to the study, an unhappy marriage has a larger effect on heart health than a happy one.
The study also showed that this connection is more common in women than in men and becomes more apparent with older couples. “Marriage counseling is focused largely on younger couples,” lead investigator Hui Liu said in a statement. “But these results show that marital quality is just as important at older ages, even when the couple has been married 40 or 50 years.”
To learn how to improve the quality of your relationship, read up on 10 ways to make your marriage divorce-proof.
A happy marriage, of course, isn't the only way to a healthy heart. Cardiovascular health begins with your diet. Start by cutting back on your salt-intake. Consuming too much can lead to high blood pressure, which is the leading cause of risk of death for women in the U.S. Most Americans should eat fewer than 2,300 milligrams of salt, which means almost all of us should cut back on sodium, according to the CDC.
You can also change your diet to include more heart-friendly foods like oatmeal, salmon, avocado, and berries. Beefing up your green veggie intake with more spinach and soy beans can help as well. And go ahead and indulge in a glass of wine every now and then. Research suggests the tannins in red wine might help reduce the risk of heart disease and moderate drinkers are less likely to suffer a heart attack.
Another key to a healthy heart is exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week. Alternatively, 25 minutes of high-intensity exercise three days per week, in addition to muscle strengthening exercises two days each week can also help to prevent heart disease. So get out there and swim, run, bike, jog, whatever it takes to get your heart healthy and pumping.