Love can sometimes break a heart but marriage seems to do it a lot of good. A study of more than 3.5 million Americans finds that married people are less likely than singles, divorced or widowed folks to suffer any type of heart or blood vessel problem.
This was true at any age, for women as well as for men, and regardless of other heart disease risk factors they had, such as high cholesterol or diabetes, researchers found.
"It might be that if someone is married, they have a spouse who encourages them to take better care of themselves," said Dr. Jeffrey Berger, a preventive cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York.
But "we can't prove by any means cause and effect," he said.
This is the largest look at marriage and heart health, said Dr. Carlos Alviar, a cardiology fellow who led the study with Berger.
The study found:
• Married people had a 5 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with single people. Widowed people had a 3 percent greater risk and divorced people, a 5 percent greater risk, compared with married folks.
• Marriage seemed to do the most good for those under age 50; they had a 12 percent lower risk of heart-related disease than single people their age.
Researchers don't know how long any study participants were married or how recently they were divorced or became widowed. But the results drive home the message that a person's heart risks can't be judged by physical measures alone — social factors and stress also matter, said Dr. Vera Bittner, a cardiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She heads the heart disease prevention committee of the American College of Cardiology. The study results were released Friday ahead of presentation this weekend at the group's annual meeting in Washington.