Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

'Happy marriage cuts fatal stroke risk for men'

an elderly couple
A happy marriage could bring health benefits

If you are a man, marriage can cut your risk of stroke, unless you are in an unhappy one, say researchers.

A study of 10,000 Israelis found both bachelors and those in loveless marriages had a far higher risk of fatal stroke than happily married men.

Experts said the work, presented at the American Stroke Association's International Conference, showed the power of loving relationships.

But they said a healthy lifestyle was the best way to avoid a stroke.

Marital satisfaction

The study, carried out by Uri Goldbourt from Tel Aviv University, analysed questionnaires filled out in the early 1960s by male civil servants and municipal employees.

The participants, who had an average age of 49, were asked to rate the success of their marriage.

The quality of people's relationships has a real knock-on effect on many aspects of their lives including their health.
Mel Merritt , Relate

The researchers looked at those who died from strokes during the subsequent 34 years and compared it with the questionnaire findings.

After adjusting for factors like socio-economic status and taking into account stroke factors like blood pressure and smoking, the researchers found a striking link between fatal stroke risk and marital status.

Single men had a 64% higher risk of fatal stroke than men who were married.

But when the researchers delved further, they found the quality of the marriage was important.

Men in unhappy marriages also had a 64% higher risk when compared with those happily married.

"I had not expected that unsuccessful marriage would be of this statistical importance," said Professor Goldbourt.

The research is a snapshot of Israel from more than four decades ago, he said.

I had not expected that unsuccessful marriage would be of this statistical importance
Professor Uri Goldbourt, Tel Aviv University

"How much this reflects associations between being happily or relatively happily married and stroke-free survival in other populations, at later times, is not readily deduced."

But previous research has suggested the quality of relationships can impact on health.

Studies have shown that stressful relationships can boost the risk of heart problems, and that being happy can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Knock-on effect

The findings of the Israeli study are not surprising, according to Mel Merritt of the relationship charity Relate.

She said: "This research reaffirms what we already know that the quality of people's relationships has a real knock-on effect on many aspects of their lives including their health.

"As a society we should invest in relationship support because happy relationships benefit us all by contributing to people's wellbeing, increasing productivity at work and improving people's health."

Lifestyle matters

Strokes cause many deaths each year. Experts say there are many contributory factors besides marital status.

Dr Peter Coleman, Deputy Director of Research at the Stroke Association said: "Around 50,000 men will have a first stroke in the UK every year and out of all people who have a stroke about a third are likely to die, a third will make a recovery within one month and a third will be left with a severe disability.

"No matter what your marital status, leading a healthy lifestyle, taking regular exercise, consuming a diet low in saturated fat and salt and having your blood pressure checked regularly are all ways to significantly reduce your risk of having a stroke."

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