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Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Happy marriage good for the heart

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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(CNN) -- Can marital bliss give women the upper hand on good health? New research says yes.

Wives satisfied with their marriage are less likely to develop risk factors for some diseases, according to a study published in the September issue of Health Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta gave anchor Soledad O'Brien the details on the medical benefits of marriage.

O'BRIEN: Good morning, Sanjay. I got to tell you, I love this study.

GUPTA: Yes, I was thinking that you're probably waiting all morning for this one.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

GUPTA: Listen, for a long time, it's been known that men actually derive a significant health benefit from being married. That's not disputed. That's well-known medical lore. But now some particularly enterprising researchers decided to see if the reverse was true as well. And the answer is: sort of.

Yes, women do derive health benefits from being married, but only if that marriage is a happy one.

At least that's the conclusion of a good study out of Pittsburgh and San Diego, looking at 493 postmenopausal women. They looked at postmenopausal women specifically because these are women who are more likely to have problems with heart disease and things like that.

And what they found was that, over time, [by] actually stratifying the women who had happy marriages versus women who were single, divorced or widowed, . . . several risk factors tended to improve, specifically with the women who had happier marriages. They [had] lower cardiovascular risk factors. They had decreases in weight, they exercised more, [had] better blood pressure control. Cholesterol, body mass index, anxiety and depression levels -- all improved again in these women who specifically had happy marriages.

Now I point out a couple of things, Soledad, because a lot of people are probably sort of wondering about this study a bit. . . . This study was done primarily in white women who are well educated, so this may not apply across the board to all women, but an interesting study nonetheless.

And also, people are asking, how do you determine that a marriage is a good marriage? Well, they did this on a basis of a questionnaire really, and questionnaires are what they are. It's just basically a series of questions for women to answer about time spent together . . . to try to determine if their marriage was, in fact, a happy one. Their conclusions, again -- happier marriage, better health lifestyle.

O'BRIEN: Did they assess the impact that making more money would have, because you have to imagine that a couple is going to have a higher income than a single person, and also I guess do they assess the impact of having someone outside the effect on cardiovascular risk, having a partner who's interested in your health as well, what kind of impact that would have?

GUPTA: Yes, Soledad, I think you just hit on two of the big reasons as to why this link may be there. One is just a practical one. The socioeconomic [reason is] not only having more money, but also having health insurance. If one of the partners has health insurance, oftentimes the other partner does as well, as a result of the employment situation.

But also, you know, better health practices. Couples are more likely to encourage the other towards better diet, toward exercise, things like that, but even more philosophically than that, they have known for quite some time that social isolation, people who live alone for the most part, tend to have more unhealthy lifestyles, and that's something that's been known for a long time. So go out there and make your women healthy, not just happy, I guess was the conclusion, finally.

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