Trust your spouse for better heart health

Matters of the heart can actually influence your cardiovascular health, reveals research.

A study from the University of Utah shows that the ways in which your spouse is supportive - and how you support your spouse - can actually have significant bearing on your overall heart health.

When both partners perceive the support they get from each other as ambivalent - that is, sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting - each partner's levels of coronary artery calcification (CAC) tend to be particularly high, said the findings.

"There is a large body of epidemiological research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease," explains Bert Uchino, psychological scientist at University of Utah.

"But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterised by both positive and negative aspects - in other words, ambivalence," he added.

Uchino and his colleagues Timothy Smith and Cynthia Berg explored how this complexity in relationships predicts cardiovascular health.

The researchers instructed 136 older couples (63-years old on average) to fill out questionnaires measuring their overall marriage quality as well as their perceived support from their spouse.

Specifically, they indicated how helpful or how upsetting their spouse was during times when they needed support, advice, or a favour.

The researchers found that about 30 percent of individuals viewed their partner as delivering positive support, whereas 70 percent viewed their partner as ambivalent - sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting.

Using a CT scanner to check for overall calcification in the participants' coronary arteries, the researchers found that CAC levels were highest when both partners in the relationship viewed each other as ambivalent.

When only one partner felt this way, the risk was significantly less.

"The findings suggest that couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship," said Uchino.

This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk, added the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

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