A new Israeli study suggests that men who are happily married are much less likely to die of a stroke.
While he cautions that it’s “no magic bullet,” in the first study of its kind to assess the quality of a marriage and its association with stroke risk, Israeli Professor Uri Goldbourt finds that a happy marriage may have a previously unrecognized benefit for men – a lesser risk of fatal strokes.
With the connection between mind and body being explored so extensively in recent years, it seems obvious to most that the happier we are, the better off we are, with respect to both our emotional and our physical health.
Previous medical studies have suggested that happiness can stave off the flu, promote positive cardiac health, and may even help people fight cancer. For example, it’s now common knowledge that a cancer patient with a poor prognosis and a positive outlook is likely to live longer than someone with a better prognosis but a negative attitude.
Still, Goldbourt, of Tel Aviv University (TAU), stresses that much more research is needed on the happiness question, including consideration of such factors as medication and the effects of happiness over time.
“We have opened a new channel of research into factors associated with death-by-stroke risk. Until that research is done, the best way to avoid one,” he says, “is still to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
Unhappily married at higher risk of stroke
Goldbourt’s research at TAU’s Neufeld Cardiac Institute found a correlation between reported “happiness” in marriage and the likelihood that a man will die from stroke. Drawn from data collected from 10,000 male civil servants, beginning in 1965, the study was presented to experts at the American Stroke Association’s International Conference earlier this year.
In the retrospective study, men were surveyed about their happiness levels and marital status; 34 years later, a follow-up study determined how many of the men died from stroke.
Single men were found to have a 64 percent higher risk of a fatal stroke than married men had. The quality of the marriage appeared to matter as well – men in an unhappy union had a 64% higher risk of a fatal stroke than those who reported being happy in their marriage.
“The so-called ‘quality of marriage’ is a variable that relied solely on the reported satisfaction of the husband,” Goldbourt tells ISRAEL21c, adding that “without any report from the wives, one obtained only a one-sided version.” He said that he hopes that future research will include data from married women.
The study provides foundational research for further consideration of the effects of happiness – and the quality of a marriage – on physical as well as mental health.
A hypothesis for further research
“The association we’ve found adjusts for factors such as age, blood type and cholesterol levels,” Goldbourt notes, warning that his results are only preliminary, taking into consideration only a few of many possible variables while laying the groundwork for future research.
The survey measured fatal strokes only, not those that were survived, for example. Goldbourt hopes that his research will be taken up by younger researchers as a foundational study.
The professor describes his findings as “a hypothesis generator” rather than statistical proof because of what he calls their observational nature. Also, only 323 (less than four percent) of the men reported being completely dissatisfied and unhappy in their marriages, whereas 3,829 men (42.8%) reported being very satisfied.
In addition, he points out that his study didn’t include follow-up research on the different kinds of strokes to which men can succumb. “Happiness may very likely create healthier men and reduce the risk of a fatal stroke,” he tells ISRAEL21c, “but we don’t yet have all the information necessary to back this up or to identify a mechanism.”
Until sufficient research has been conducted, the best way to avoid death by stroke, “is to comply with suggested current recommendations of identifying and treating high blood pressure, avoid cigarettes and closely watch and treat people who have diabetes mellitus and/or suffer from atrial fibrillation,” Goldbourt concludes.