Mel and I had been married for almost a decade when she announced that she wanted to become a vegetarian. I was raised on a beef farm, and the majority of every significant moment in our lives — from our wedding to the birth of our children — had been celebrated with a side of beef.
I tried not to take this life change personally, but ultimately, I was a wreck over it. I tried to tempt her with bacon at every turn, but ultimately she prevailed, and within a year, I was eating meat only once a month, if that. All of it reminded me of that line from Pulp Fiction when Jules (played by Samuel L. Jackson) takes a bite from a hamburger and says, “Me, I can’t usually get them ’cause my girlfriend’s a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian.” I feel you, Jules. I feel you.
Looking back, however, that was the best decision I ever made for my health. I ended up losing weight (almost 25 pounds), and reduced my cholesterol and blood pressure. I couldn’t help but recall this situation while reading about a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showing that being married lowers your chance of heart disease. Researchers reviewed four years of data on more than 6,000 heart patients, and they found that being married decreases your chances of dying from heart disease by quite a bit.
On average, participants were 63 years old, and were all being treated for heart disease at an Emory University health care facility. During the multi-year study just over 1,000 of the patients died.
Dr. Arshed Quyyumi, a professor of medicine with Emory University School of Medicine’s division of cardiology in Atlanta and one of the study’s co-authors, told the Chicago Tribune: “Compared to married subjects, being unmarried was associated with a 45 percent higher risk for dying [from heart disease], even after accounting for differences in risk factors, disease severity, medication use and socioeconomic factors.”
I’ll be honest, 45% is a big percentage.
According to the study, those who were widowed had it the worst, with their risk for heart disease increasing by 71 percent.
I will be the first to admit that being married can be stressful. I have often said that marriage is the most rewarding, but also the most frustrating part of my life. However, when I consider the story I told above, obviously I would have never, in a million years, made the life change to eating less meat were it not for my wife.
Experts who have reviewed the study suspect something similar is going on with their married patients. Dr. Sana Al-Khatib, a professor of medicine in Duke University’s division of cardiology-electrophysiology told the Chicago Tribune, “Having social support may ease up some of the stress that patients with [heart disease] face. Also, a spouse may help patients be more attentive to their health, reminding them to take their medications, abide by a healthy lifestyle and diet, and be strong in fighting their disease.”
All of this makes me think of my mother. She was single for years, raising me and my two siblings. I can still remember her leaning over a stack of bills at our kitchen table. Most of that time she was stressed beyond anything I’ve had to deal with in my adult life. She also worked at least two jobs to support us — one collecting payments at the power company and the other cleaning houses. She had little to no time to exercise, and I can’t remember her eating all that well. I can only imagine the strain that time put on her heart. And now that she’s in her mid 60s, she has had a few heart scares.
The study didn’t look at long-term relationships, just marital status, but one has to assume that two people who have been together for decades, but haven’t the plunge into marriage, would probably have similar healthy attributes.
This is a new study, however. Since it is the first to look at marital status in correlation to heart disease, there will likely be new findings and correlations. But ultimately, it is eye-opening, and it will most likely lead many medical experts to begin taking someone’s marital status into consideration when treating them for heart disease. So going forward, if you are married, you might want to thank the one you are with for your healthy heart. They are obviously doing more for your longevity than you realized. And don’t be surprised if in the future your doctor asks if you are married along with all those questions about smoking, drinking, and how often you exercise.