As Frank Sinatra once sang, “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.” But according to new research, so do marriage and a healthy heart.

A study from the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY, led by Dr. Carlos L. Alviar, suggests that people who are married are much less likely to develop any kind of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who are single, widowed or divorced.

The research team recently presented their findings at the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology.

Past research has associated marriage with lower risk of cardiovascular problems. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that unmarried women are more likely to die from heart disease.

But the researchers from this most recent study say it is the largest of its kind, analyzing surveys of more than 3.5 million men and women from 20,000 health centers across the US.

All participants, who were aged between 21 and 99 years old, underwent physical examinations and imaging tests between 2004 and 2008. Their risk factors for cardiovascular disease were also measured, including blood pressure, obesity, smoking history, family history of disease, diabetes and blood cholesterol level.

The research team found that overall, individuals who were married had a 5% lower risk of developing any kind of cardiovascular disease than those who were single.

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Researchers found that people who were married had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than those who were single, widowed or divorced.

People who were widowed were 3% more likely to develop any kind of cardiovascular disease – including peripheral artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurism and coronary artery disease – than those who were married, while divorced individuals had a 5% higher risk.

Breaking the results down by age, the researchers found that married people under the age of 50 had a 12% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with single people younger than 50 years.

Married couples between the ages of 51 and 60 had a 7% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with single individuals of the same age group, while married couples over the age of 60 had a 4% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Jeffrey Berger, senior study author and assistant professor at the Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology of the Department of Medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center, says these findings suggest that doctors should consider the marital status of patients when assessing them for heart problems.

He adds:

Our survey results clearly show that when it comes to cardiovascular disease, marital status does indeed matter.

If one of my patients is recently widowed or divorced, I’m increasingly vigilant about examining that patient for signs of any type of cardiovascular disease and depression.”

Dr. Berger says further research is warranted to fully understand why marital status appears to affect an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease. But he hypothesizes that during periods of illness and when it comes to looking after general health, marriage can provide an “emotional and physical support system.”

“Married people can look after each other, making sure their spouse eats healthy, exercises regularly and takes medication as prescribed,” says Dr. Berger.

“A spouse can also help keep doctors’ appointments and provide transportation, making for easier access to health care services.”

The investigators conclude that because of the large number of participants in their study, and since they accounted for known risk factors for heart disease, their research offers “reliable and statistically valid results” on the association between marital status and cardiovascular disease.

The team says they plan to conduct further research that will look at marital status and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by race. They note that although around 80% of the participants in this study were white, there were enough individuals of other races to reach certain conclusions based on ethnic origin and race.

Furthermore, the researchers wish to look at how socioeconomic risk factors, such as education, income and employment status, affect the link between marital status and risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is not just a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease that marriage has been hailed for. Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that married cancer patients are more likely to live longer, compared with those who are unmarried.