Bickering about finances, debating child-rearing methods and arguing about whose turn it is to take out the garbage — sometimes the daily grind of married life can leave you feeling a little less than enthusiastic about your spouse. But even when your partner is driving you up the wall, it turns out they might actually be providing health benefits of marriage.
That’s right: it turns out that married people enjoy certain health advantages over singles. Now, that doesn’t mean that tying the knot automatically makes you happier or healthier. But a major happiness study does suggest relationships are at the root of finding joy.
To be clear, though, health benefits of marriage don’t extend to people who are in unhappy, abusive or stressful relationships. (This includes things like being married to someone with narcissistic personality disorder, for instance.) In these cases, being single with a supportive, loving circle of family and friends is healthier than being trapped in an unhappy, stressful or abusive marriage.
But in general, the lifestyle choice of getting hitched can translate into being healthier — here’s how.
Top Health Benefits of Marriage
1. You have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. One study from New York University, which examined the records of more than 3.5 million people aged 21 to 102 years old, found that both men and women who were married enjoyed a lower rate of ever having a heart attack than their single counterparts. Those results held true even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, race and other risk factors. (1)
Interestingly, being divorced or widowed meant a greater likelihood of cardiovascular disease than being married or single. When it comes to heart disease, it’s not better to have loved and lost.
Men also experience more health benefits from marriage than ladies. A Canadian study found that, among men who were experiencing chest pain, the married ones went to the doctor to get checked out significantly earlier than single men, leading to a lower risk of cardiovascular death. (2) Could spousal “nagging” to see the doctor be the cause? Maybe doctors should start sharing the benefits of marriage as part of a loving prescription for supplementing coronary heart disease treatment.
2. You’ll be less stressed. It might seem counterintuitive when you’re in the midst of an argument, but being married actually leads to a hormonal change that affects stress levels. One study looked at 500 master’s degree students to learn more about that.
Researchers asked study participants to play a series of computer games that tested economic behaviors. In order to make the games stressful and affect levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, students were told the test was a course requirement that would impact future career placement. Each student gave a saliva sample before and after the test to measure cortisol.
The study found that cortisol levels were increased more in men and women who were unmarried compared to those who were married. Additionally, those who were unmarried had a higher baseline of cortisol, meaning they suffered from higher stress levels to begin with. Researchers believe that while marriage can be stressful, it can also serve as a powerful tool for helping people deal with other life stressors. (3)
Normally, cortisol levels rise after waking and fall as the day progresses. Another study analyzed cortisol levels and slopes in 572 healthy adults that were either currently married or in a marriage-like relationship, never married or previously married.
Samples of cortisol-containing saliva were collected at different times on three nonconsecutive days. Researchers found that the married group had lower levels of cortisol than the non-married or previously-married groups. The married group also showed a faster drop in cortisol levels when compared to the never-married group. The differences between the married and previously-married groups were minimal. Again, marriage showed signs of helping to keep stress at bay. (4)
3. If you have cancer, you’re likelier to live. A bit more grim but equally as important, being married boosted survival rates of cancer patients in one study. Published in a peer-reviewed journal, a University of San Diego study pored over the information of almost 800,000 California adults who were diagnosed with invasive cancer between 2000 and 2009, and followed up with them in 2012. (5)
They found that for males, on average, the rate of death was 27 percent higher for those who were unmarried; for women, it was 19 percent higher. The most benefits were found in married, white men. The researchers attributed the higher survival rate among married patients with a stronger support system than for singles. With more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2015, this could have a real impact on public health. (6)
Of course, if you’re not married, you can seek similar benefits by connecting to those in your close network of family and friends. Translation: Don’t let a cancer diagnosis isolate you from others.
4. You’ll live longer. Finally, getting wed could mean you’ll live longer. One study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that being married through middle age could be the key to reaching old age. Those people who never married were more than twice as likely to die early than those who’d been in a stable marriage in their adult life. (7) Being single or widowed and never re-marrying reduced the chances of reaching old age, even after the researchers adjusted the study for risky behaviors.
A Downside of Marriage
Singles, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is one case where marriage doesn’t help: obesity. People who are married suffer from higher rates of obesity than singles do. (8) Because obesity is tied to so many other health ailments, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, it’s important to continue making healthy choices once you’re married — together.
Going on fun, active dates is a great way to keep the spark alive while keeping fit. Consider exploring the neighborhood by bike, hitting up a rock climbing gym or taking a cooking a cooking class together instead of going out for dinner and a movie.
A lack of communication and stress eating can also lead to problems with weight. If you’re having trouble getting through to your partner, think about seeing a couples therapist who can help you work through tough spots in your marriage together instead of turning to food for comfort.
Final Thoughts on the Health Benefits of Marriage
- Being in a safe, stable marriage can help you live longer, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce stress levels.
- For those with cancer, being in a healthy marriage seems to increase the odds of living longer. However, if you are unmarried and living with cancer, avoiding isolation and tapping into your network of family and friends can provide similar benefits.
- One downside? Being married increases your changes of being obese. So adopt an active, healthy lifestyle together.
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