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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ideal Way to Lower Blood Pressure

To lower your blood pressure just do this: Get married. Live happily ever after.

Happily married adults have lower blood pressure than singles with supportive social networks, suggesting marriage may literally be a matter of the heart, according to a study from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

The study: Led by psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, the team arranged for 204 married and 99 single adults to wear portable blood pressure monitors, mostly concealed by their clothes, for 24 hours. The monitors recorded blood pressure at random intervals throughout the day--even while the volunteers slept. Each person's blood pressure level was recorded about 72 times. "We wanted to capture participants' blood pressure doing whatever they normally do in everyday life," Holt-Lunstad said. "Getting one or two readings in a clinic is not really representative of the fluctuations that occur throughout the day."

All participants completed a roster of friends in their social network and answered questions about the quality of those relationships. Married participants also completed questionnaires on the quality of the relationship with their spouses.

The results: Men and women in happy marriages scored four points lower on the 24-hour blood pressure test than did single adults. Having a network of supportive friends did not translate into improved blood pressure for singles or unhappily marrieds, which surprised Holt-Lunstad and her two student collaborators, Wendy Birmingham and Brandon Jones. The study also found, unsurprisingly, that unhappily married adults have higher blood pressure than both happily married and single adults.

"There seem to be some unique health benefits from marriage," said Holt-Lunstad. "It's not just being married that benefits health. What's really the most protective of health is having a happy marriage."

With the monitors recording blood pressure both day and night, the researchers could see that blood pressure for married adults--especially those who were happily married--dipped more during sleep than happens with singles. "Research has shown that people whose blood pressure remains high throughout the night are at much greater risk of cardiovascular problems than people whose blood pressure dips," Holt-Lunstad said.

Why does a happy marriage make us healthier? Spouses can promote healthy habits, such as encouraging each other to see a doctor and to eat healthy foods. The marriage relationship is also a source of emotional support in good and bad times. Sharing good news, for example, generates positive emotions, which in turn boosts the body's functioning.

The study findings were published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

--From the Editors at Netscape


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