Healthy Living inflammation Reflection

Having a hand to hold

<Apologies in advance: this post is a (major) re-write of an old post.>

Heart rhythm doctors are trained observers. We spend our days focusing on minute squiggles which are timed in milliseconds. It’s all a lot of observation.

It’s only natural that one’s work skills might spill over to normal life. Plumbers are handy around the house; bankers are good with the books; and journalists make good bloggers.

We heart rhythm doctors are good at observing things. (Which, to our spouses’ dismay, doesn’t make us very handy outside the hospital.) Heart rhythm doctors that write a blog are especially keen on looking for fresh new topics. Note to self. Evernote that. Dragon dictate this. Take a pic–that’s a good example of… Etc. Etc.

So while driving through the neighborhood, the trained observer in me noticed this image:

My teenage son asked why we were stopping to take a picture of old people.

I answered that this was a good visual of heart-health.


If the final common pathway of successful aging lies in soothing the inflammation that life throws at you, this picture speaks volumes. They walk through the neighborhood hand-in-hand, near daily. They talk to each other; they like each other; they are a team, for the past sixty-five years.

It strikes me how many times this pattern is repeated: the patient with advanced heart disease powers into my office together with their loving spouse of many years. They defy the illness. It’s as if two can fight disease better than one.

You can find oodles of websites proclaiming that long-term loving relationships are a key component of longevity. This I strongly believe. The anti-inflammatory effect of companionship cannot yet be measured, but if it could, I wonder whether it would be as potent as fish oil, or statins, or beta-blockers. Surely, for extending life, a hand-holding loving companion is a more powerful therapy than a coronary stent or defibrillator?

Life brings choices. Though my data is only anecdotal, I’m guessing that choosing to have a hand to hold is one heck of an important decision.


9 replies on “Having a hand to hold”

Well, it depends…. A number of really interesting studies have suggested that men who are married – happily or not! – are generally far healthier than their unmarried buddies. A man’s physical health apparently benefits simply from the state of being married, whether or not he rates it as a “good” marriage.

Here’s the scoop on women: Utah researchers found that happily married women DO face a significantly lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome than their unhappily married counterparts. BUT what about those who are single, divorced or “between husbands”? After accounting for a variety of factors, there were “no statistically significant differences between happily married women and unmarried women”.

More on this at: “Poor Marriage = Poor Heart Health For Women” –

As always Carolyn, thank you for your insightful commentary, and for referring readers to this interesting post which highlights yet another way in which the male and female heart differs.

As moving as your post was, I have to challenge your assertion that one “chooses to have a hand to hold”. Based on personal experience and the proliferation of dating websites, I would say that there are a lot of people in the world who would love to have a hand to hold, but haven’t been given that choice by life.

I guess I should start taking some Lipitor….

I agree. Thanks for pointing this out. I guess, to a certain extent, we take what life gives. But on the other hand, if life does present us a hand to hold, taking it would likely be very heart healthy.

Having a hand to hold in sickness is what it’s all about, really. It’s God’s scheme for us to take care of each other, two by two. If you’re the survivor, you go on at least knowing you’ve done your duty. But it’s contrary to the romantic sex bullshit we’ve been fed since the Romantic era.

I used to ride in a bike club with this married couple, and one day as I rode along with the wife as the husband raced on ahead, and she said she didn’t think she could handle caring for him in old age. I was startled, having just been caregiver for my late husband, and said oh no it’s not that bad, it’s a privilege…she didn’t talk to me much after that. I saw in the paper they divorced this year.

She got out just in time, I guess.

Thanks fior writing Carol.

Sorry for your loss.

I’d say human relationships are many magnitudes more complicated than heart disease.

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