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Want To Live Longer ? Be Nice To Your Spouse !

Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Want to live longer? Be nice to your spouse

Sharon KirkeyCanWest News Service
Friday, March 03, 2006

Everyone knows the drill for a strong heart: Don't smoke. Exercise. Eat healthy foods. Now comes a new warning: Be nice to your spouse.

A new study based on 150 healthy, older married couples found that women who are hostile towards their husbands during disagreements are more likely to have hardening of their coronary arteries.

For men, being controlling -- or being married to someone who is -- promotes atherosclerosis.

"It was intriguing that we could find a relationship between a six-minute behavioural snapshot of couples talking about an argument they have, and a silent but very serious condition in their coronary arteries," said researcher Tim Smith, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
"These were all people who were outwardly healthy but some had advanced atherosclerosis."
Smith is to present his findings today in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

Other researchers have found that matrimony helps people live longer. Married people are less likely to have a stroke, die after an operation or suffer from chronic illnesses. No one knows why, but scientists have speculated that marriage might reduce stress because people are less likely to feel lonely or isolated. They're also more likely to exercise, eat well and not drink too much.

Now, the Utah study says the way couples fight is important, too.
Smith's team interviewed married couples, mostly in their early 60s, who had no history of cardiovascular disease. The couples were taken into the lab and videotaped as they discussed something -- money, in-laws, kids -- that they had had disagreements about in the past. Researchers who watched the tapes coded every comment into categories.

Two days later, each couple had a CAT scan to check for calcification of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood.

Plaque is a build-up of fat, calcium and other substances that, over time, can lead to narrowing of the arteries and an eventual heart attack.

The researchers found that the more hostile and unfriendly the women were during the six-minute discussions, especially if their husbands were, too, the more severe the hardening of their arteries.
However, their arterial health was not influenced by whether they or their husband acted in a controlling or dominating way.

Men, on the other hand, who were more dominant or controlling, or whose wives were, were more likely than other men to have more severe hardening of the arteries. Men who didn't have to struggle for control had much lower levels of atherosclerosis, Smith says.

Smith said warm connections between people tend to dampen down physiological "fight or flight" stress responses, whereas angry interactions tend to lead to changes in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006​

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