A couple
Those couples who have lived with each other are noticeably more likely to divorce. REUTERS

New research found that happily married couples who have undergone heart bypass surgery are more than three times as likely to survive 15 years post surgery, than those who are unmarried.

A happy marriage can play just as big a role as good heart health after quitting smoking, losing weight or keeping a low blood pressure, experts say.

University of Rochester researchers surveyed 225 people who had undergone bypass surgery between 1987 and 1990, asking them about their marital status at the time of surgery and to rate their marital satisfaction a year after their operations.

In the study, published in the Aug. 22 issue of Health Psychology of the American Psychological Association, married cardiac patients who had bypass surgery were two-and-a-half times more likely to survive another 15 years or more than those who were single at the time of their surgery.

There is something in a good relationship that helps people stay on track, said Kathleen King, lead author of the study and a professor emeritus of nursing at the university.

Fifteen years after bypass surgery, 83 percent of wives deemed happily married were still alive, compared to 28 percent of women in unhappy marriages and 27 percent of unmarried women, the study found.

Among men, 83 percent of happily married husbands were alive 15 years after bypass surgery, compared to 60 percent of men in less-than-satisfying marriages and 36 percent of unmarried men.

Researchers noted that married patients who reported a satisfying relationship got the biggest boost in survival and satisfied wives especially benefited.

Harry Reis, coauthor of the study and a psychology professor at the university, said marital satisfaction is every bit as important to survival after bypass surgery as more traditional risk factors like tobacco use, obesity and high blood pressure.

Reis said wives need to feel satisfied in their relationships to get a health benefit, even though the payoff for marital bliss is even greater for women than for men.

A good marriage gets under your skin whether you are male or female, Reis says.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas.