Having a supportive husband or wife may be good for the heart in more ways than one.
A small new study in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science shows that spousal support -- both the support you give to a spouse, as well as the support you receive -- is associated with having a healthier heart.
Researchers from the University of Utah had 136 couples, with an average age of 63 and an average marriage length of 36 years, answer questions that were indicative of their spousal support and marriage quality. For instance, they were asked about whether their spouse is helpful or upsetting when they need advice or support for something. About 30 percent of the participants said their spouses gave positive support, while 70 percent of the participants said their spouses were sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.
Then, researchers checked the study participants for coronary artery calcification -- hardened arteries, a risk factor for heart disease. Researchers found that when both spouses answered that their partner was sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting, the levels of coronary artery calcification were highest, compared with when just one partner said this.
Interestingly, researchers found that spousal support had a greater impact on levels of coronary artery calcification than did overall marital satisfaction.
The researchers didn't look specifically at what caused the association, but study researcher Bert Uchino, a psychological scientist at the University of Utah, noted in a statement that it's possible that "couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship. This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk."