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Heart Health

Spousal Supportiveness = Better Heart Health

Supportiveness from a spouse can help people fare better in their overall cardiovascular health, according to a new study.

The findings, by researchers from the University of Utah, show that when partners perceive the support they get from each other as ambivalent – sometimes helpful, sometimes stressful – their levels of   coronary artery calcification (CAC) tend to be high.

The findings were published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“There is a large body of epidemiological research suggesting that our relationships are predictors of mortality rates, especially from cardiovascular disease,” says Bert Uchino, psychological scientist of the University of Utah. “But most prior work has ignored the fact that many relationships are characterized by both positive and negative aspects – in other words, ambivalence.”

For their study, the researchers instructed 136 older couples (63 years old, on average) to fill out questionnaires on their overall marriage quality their perceived support from their spouse at a time when they needed support or advice. About 30 percent of respondents saw their partner as delivering positive support, while 70 percent viewed the support as ambivalent.

 The investigators used a CT scanner to check for overall CAC, and found that the levels were highest when each partner in a relationship saw the other as ambivalent. When only one partner felt this way, the risk was significantly less.

The perception of the participants’ overall quality of marriage had no effect on the CAC.

The researchers suggested when that when each partner perceives ambivalent support, it changes their interactions.

 “The findings suggest that couples who have more ambivalent views of each other actively interact or process relationship information in ways that increase their stress or undermine the supportive potential in the relationship,” says Uchino. “This, in turn, may influence their cardiovascular disease risk.”

Further research would follow couples over a period of time.

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