A Strong Marriage, Great Sex = Healthy Heart
By Khalid Sheikh, MD, MBA // January 12, 2013
February Is Heart Health Month
BREVARD COUNTY–The association between emotional stress and heart disease is well established. Marital discord and sexual problems are, if not at the top of the list, certainly very high on the list of sources of significant life stresses. Conversely, there is ample evidence that a healthy marriage and strong bonds of physical and emotional intimacy are associated with heart wellness and longevity.
Divorce Doubles Risk
A 12-year study of over 9,000 British civil servants in the 1980’s found that those with the worst marriages had a 34% greater likelihood of having a heart attack than those with good marriages. A more recent study in 2006, using coronary CAT scans found that among 150 married couples, those who behaved with hostility towards each other had more severe coronary artery calcium buildup and plaque than those in good relationships.
While a healthy marriage appears to enhance longevity, an unhealthy one increases the risk of premature death. Divorced adults have a 50-60% higher risk of developing heart disease than their never-divorced counterparts. A recent review by University of Arizona researchers found that the risk of dying among divorced adults is 23% higher than among married couples. This level of increased risk is equivalent to the increased level of heart risk caused by smoking about a pack of cigarettes per day. Divorce affects men’s health more profoundly than women. Men who are divorced have a 31% increased risk of premature death, compared to only an 18% increased risk for divorced women.
Extramarital Affairs Dangerous For Men
Having an extramarital affair is even worse. An Italian study of 1,100 men followed over 8 years found that those men who admitted to having an affair were twice as likely to develop heart disease as men who did not cheat. Furthermore, the stereotype of the cheating husband who collapses and dies in the throes of passion with a younger partner appears to be well founded.
A German study of almost 6,000 married men who died suddenly and had autopsies following their death found that of those who died during sex, 75% were engaged in extramarital sexual activity. Interestingly, no study has shown that women who have extramarital affairs are at an increased risk of death or heart disease.
Divorce and extramarital affairs increase the risk of heart disease and death for reasons more than increased stress. Both situations may raise blood pressure and promote unhealthy living habits such as weight gain, smoking and overindulgence in food and alcohol.
Mars Or Venus–Good Marital Sex Is Healthy
If extramarital sex is unhealthy, is sex with your spouse healthy for your heart? The answer appears to be not only yes, but more is better. At least for men, the amount of sexual activity in their marriage is inversely related to heart risk. The 2010 Massachusetts Male Aging Study followed over 1,000 healthy men in their 50s over a 16-year period. Men who reported engaging in sexual activity at least two-three times per week were 45% less likely to develop heart disease than men who reported having sex once a month or less.
For women, there does not appear to be a correlation between the amount of sexual activity and either heart health or longevity. However, married women who are passive, silent and uninvolved in family and household decisions are twice as likely to die as women who are assertive and take an active interest in the responsibilities of managing their households.
The Mars-Venus dichotomy may well explain these findings. For men, a strong spousal relationship and feelings of intimacy may start with the perception of an active and satisfying sex life. For women, an active and satisfying sex life may start when there is a strong spousal relationship and feelings of intimacy. Regardless, statistics indicate that a strong marriage, intimacy and heart wellness are all closely linked for men and women. Keep this in mind as you embark on your New Year’s heart-healthy resolutions.
For more information on heart health, get my book Don’t Let Your Heart Attack!, available in all e-book formats as well as soft and hard cover print editions on-line through Amazon (print), Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (print), Barnes and Noble (Nook) and iTunes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Sheikh, a member of Health First Physicians Cardiovascular Specialists, directs a cardiology practice specializing in lipid management and cardiovascular disease prevention, treatment and reversal in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He was a Professor of Cardiology at Duke University before entering private practice, and is currently on the clinical faculty at the University of Central Florida College Of Medicine. Dr. Sheikh, who was recognized by the Consumers’ Research Council of America as one of America’s Top Cardiologists, is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases, and is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. He is also a certified clinical lipid specialist, board certified in adult echocardiography and has completed level I training in cardiac CT imaging. He has served as the principal investigator in over 100 national and international clinical research trials, and authored over 150 scientific abstracts, peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and subject reviews.
For more information about Don’t Let Your Heart Attack and Dr. Sheikh’s practice go to SheikhHeartCare.com