June 22, 2001 -- A conversation over morning coffee with your spouse, a quiet evening sitting side-by-side reading with your partner, even trying to explain to your husband or wife how that little dent appeared on the new car: all these social interactions with your partner could be good for your heart -- and overall, for your health.
A new study has found that, on the average, people's blood pressures are slightly lower when they are alone with their partners, compared to the times when they're just by themselves, or with other people.
"Since social support and the marital relationship, especially, has emerged as an important factor that may protect people from risk for a variety of illnesses, we were interested in knowing whether social interactions play any role in predicting [blood pressure]." author Thomas W. Kamarck, PhD, tells WebMD. The associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh adds that lower blood pressure may protect against heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
This study looks at social interactions that can potentially reduce cardiovascular overstimulation, Elizabeth Brondolo, PhD, tells WebMD. The associate professor of psychology at St. John's University in New York also has studied how everyday life affects blood pressure.
"It is nice to see what some of the concrete potential benefits of being in an intimate relationship are," she says.
To look at this complicated issue, researchers monitored the blood pressures of 120 healthy, married and employed adults over six days. After each blood pressure reading, the subject answered questions about what kind of social interactions and emotions were going on at the time.
The investigators found that blood pressure was slightly lower when the participants were with their spouses, compared to when they were with someone else, or were alone.
The blood pressure wasn't much lower, Kamarck admits. "It is certainly not a breakthrough finding, but it does suggest there may be some subtle processes that go on during daily life that have effects on our blood pressure that we are not aware of."
Though the drop in blood pressure is small, that doesn't disturb Brondolo. "We don't really know how much of an increase in blood pressure is harmful, and how much a reduction is beneficial over the long haul. It could be cumulative; we just don't have that data yet."
"We are beginning to understand that we are social animals, that our [bodily] functioning both affects and is affected by social interactions," says Brondolo. "The more that we understand how that works, how our bodies change as we talk to people, and how the way we feel inside affects the way we talk to people, we can really come to understand more effectively how to design interventions to reduce cardiovascular disease and understand how our mind and body work together, and how we operate as social beings."