Since heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in this country, you should be very concerned about the health of your heart and your partner’s heart. Barbara Bush is recovering from heart surgery today, and Robin Williams is about to have the same surgery. Former President George Bush nearly broke down providing an update, showing his deep care and concern for wife of 65 years. Most families have some history with the disease.
In a just-released research report, researchers from the University of Utah show that in addition to known risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, the quality of emotional lives impacts our risk of heart disease.
One fact suggested by the data is that a history of divorce is linked to heart disease. Another is that an unhappy or strained marriage can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar, particularly in women. This can put them at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Hormonal affects of stress appear to contribute to health problems.
The researchers say that “women appear to be more sensitive and responsive to relationship problems than men” … and that “those problems could harm their health.” The fact that women are more sensitive shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, but I do wonder if more sensitive men are equally affected. In any case, here are some conclusions we should have known all along:
News flash to all husbands: Your wives are sensitive and should be treated with care.
News flash to all couples: harboring anger and frequently arguing is bad for your health.
A study released last year seems to show the flip side of this, that daily cortisol patterns (an indicator of stress) are linked to marital satisfaction for women but not men,” said co-author Rena Repetti, a UCLA professor in the department of psychology.
Men showed their cortisol levels drop dramatically after a busy day. Happily married women saw this benefit, but unhappily married women did not.
“Past research has found that men appear to get a health and longevity boost from marriage, while for women, being married is only beneficial insofar as the marriage is high-quality,” Repetti said. “This study is the first to point to daily cortisol fluctuations as a specific pathway through which marital quality affects health for women but not men.”
Repetti explains, “It may be that a chronically unhappy marriage creates multiple occasions everyday when the wife needs to mount a stress response, putting her cortisol levels on a kind of roller coaster ride. The system is under more wear and tear. It’s like driving a car in traffic conditions that are constantly stop and go. You need to repeatedly step on the gas and apply the brakes, step on the gas, apply the breaks. Over time, you create a less reliable system. You don’t stop and re-accelerate as quickly. You don’t recover as quickly.”
My thought is that women frequently care for those around them and don’t prioritize their own needs. Don’t let a heart attack be the first sign that you need to take better care of yourself and your emotional health. If you feel you have an unhappy marriage, please seek out a good marriage counselor.
What do you think about this connection between emotional health and heart health? You’ve heard of people who died of a broken heart—is your emotional heart closely connected with your heart health? What do you need to do to improve your emotional health and reduce stress levels?
Sources: News reports at CBC News, MSNBC.com and Scientific Blogging.