03/18/2014 08:34 am ET Updated Mar 18, 2014

Heart Disease Death Risk May Be Lower For Married Women

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Married women have a lower risk of dying from heart disease than their unmarried peers, according to a new study.

However, the risk of developing heart disease in the first place seems to be the same between married and unmarried women, the study showed.

For the BMC Medicine study, researchers looked at health data from 734,626 women with an average age of 60 who were part of the Million Women Study. None of the women had previously been diagnosed with heart disease, cancer or stroke. The researchers calculated married women's relative risk of being hospitalized or dying from ischemic heart disease, compared with unmarried women, over an 8.8-year follow-up period.

After the 8.8 years, 30,747 women were admitted to the hospital or died because of an ischemic heart disease event.

Researchers found that married women's risk of dying from heart disease was 28 percent lower than unmarried women (which included women who were single, divorced or widowed). The findings held true even after looking at different lifestyle factors or looking at the women by socioeconomic group.

While the study only showed an association between heart disease death risk and marital status for women, researchers proposed several possible reasons for the association.

"Spousal influences on behavior may encourage healthier lifestyles, or there may be negative changes in lifestyle after divorce or separation. However, people may choose partners who share their behaviors and, therefore, marriage or cohabitation may reinforce both beneficial and harmful lifestyle choices," they wrote in the study. "Area deprivation might act as another mediator, given that getting married can enhance one's financial resources, whereas divorce or widowhood can have the reverse effect."

The researchers noted that this study is just one of a few looking at marital status's potential effect on heart disease in women; most studies only examine its effects in men.

However, one previous study published last year in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that marriage seems to lower heart attack risk for both sexes, with the effects being especially strong in middle-aged couples.