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Have a kid and lower your blood pressure, researchers say

January 14, 2010 |  5:15 pm

The next time your little one dumps a cup of coffee into your laptop keyboard, keep this in mind: A new study finds that having children may be linked to having lower blood pressure.

Kvlehanc Researchers from Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Cal State Long Beach took ambulatory blood pressure readings of 198 married men and women, aged 20 to 68, over one 24-hour period. About 70% of the couples had children of various ages.

The subjects wore blood pressure monitors that took readings at random intervals during the day, including while they were sleeping, giving researchers a good idea of daily blood pressure highs and lows.

Overall, parents scored 4.5 points lower than those without kids in systolic blood pressure (the top number that measures when the heart is contracting), and 3 points lower in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number that measures the heart at rest, in between heartbeats). Among women, the spread was even greater: Women with children showed a 12-point difference in systolic pressure and a 7-point difference in diastolic pressure compared with their counterparts without children.

The researchers arrived at these numbers after accounting for such variables as age, body mass, exercise, being employed, and smoking. They note that although the study took blood pressure readings only once, other studies have shown the benefits of parenthood, including a higher sense of self-esteem from giving to others. On the flip side, studies have also shown that being a caregiver is associated with high levels of stress and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

"While caring for children may include daily hassles, deriving a sense of meaning and purpose from life's stress has been shown to be associated with better health outcomes," said lead researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, via a news release. Holt-Lunstad is in the department of psychology at BYU.

The study appeared recently in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Maria J. Avila / Associated Press