People often joke about marriage. When you’re young, you hear unhappy husbands or wives complain about being trapped or having made a mistake by taking their vows. And sure, there are a lot of unhappy marriages out there destined to expire sooner or later. But millions and millions of people are happily married and make the most of it. Few, however, realize their spouse is also a lifeline of sorts. And when it comes to strokes and heart attacks, your spouse may actually save your life.
That’s the revelation of a new study from Duke University. Researchers say they find stroke victims have a higher rate of survival if they’re married. The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows people who haven’t divorced or been widowed have improved survival rates after a stroke versus compared to those who have experienced some sort of separation.
The team looked at more than 2,300 adults over the age of 41 who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. Each of these individuals reported a stroke at some point between 1992 and 2010, and the results were striking. The American Heart Association’s press release reads, “The risk of dying after a stroke was 71% greater for adults who never married than for adults who were continuously married.” It continues, “People divorced or widowed had a 23% and 25% greater risk of dying after stroke, respectively.”
Marriage: The key to surviving a stroke?
According to those numbers, being married can pay off in a big way for stroke victims. The big question, of course, is why this relationship exists. Why are people who are married surviving at higher rates following a stroke? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.
“Despite taking into account a wide range of suspected risks, we found that factors such as income, health insurance, depressive mood, and a variety of health behaviors did not fully account for the risks associated with a history of marital loss,” head researcher Matthew Dupre told ResearchGate. “It may be that the acute and chronic stress related to the loss of a spouse may have played a role — particularly among the widowed at older ages. We also suspect that marital instability may have had negative consequences for one’s medication adherence, healthcare utilization, and other behaviors for disease management that may have impeded recovery.” Dupre also adds there is still work to do.
We may not have a clear idea as to why this is happening, but we do have evidence the relationship is real. Of course, you won’t want to rush out and get married just for the post-stroke benefits. If warding off a stroke is your goal, there are other things you can do.
Improving your odds
To keep yourself protected, it’s worth remembering what a stroke really is. Strokes occur when our brain is starved of oxygen. This happens when the blood flow is cut off and can lead to brain cells and tissue dying off. Another way to think of it is that it’s similar to a heart attack, but instead of your heart, it’s your brain that’s affected. And in the same way that you can take certain measures to avoid a heart attack, you can alter your behavior to lower your odds of a stroke.
If you want to do your due diligence to avoid a stroke, you’ll want to follow the basic tenants of health. Mostly, that means sticking to a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and getting plenty of sleep. Obviously, there are several other variables to throw into the mix. But if you want to paint with a broad brush? This is a very general blueprint.
As for an easy way to start? Stop drinking to excess and stop using tobacco. You’ll also want to take aim at your blood pressure and cholesterol, both of which can be controlled with a proper diet and exercise. For most people, this means eating more fruits and veggies. Sorry, meat lovers.
This, of course, doesn’t eliminate the risk of having a stroke. But living a generally healthier life will improve your odds, as will a happy marriage.