Learn how simply staying hitched can benefit your bones, heart and more
By Jenna Birch
10 Surprising Ways Marriage Makes You Healthier-As any happily married person can attest, there are countless perks to matrimony. But you may not realize that those with partners by their sides just may live longer than their unattached counterparts—and avoid serious conditions in the process. Here are 10 unexpected health bonuses to being hitched.
1. A Longer Life
If you’ve told your spouse he’ll be the death of you, you were probably mistaken. A 2013 study by Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, showed that baby boomers in a steady marriage or long-term relationship are half as likely to die than singles during middle age—and they accounted for factors like socioeconomic status and health problems. This is likely because having a companion keeps you emotionally enriched, socially connected and mentally stimulated, all of which are linked to better health.
2. Lower Stress Levels
There are days when your man makes your blood boil, but overall, his presence is likely to keep you zen. A study from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, found that when exposed to a stressful situation, like a major test or life change, the stress hormone cortisol increased more in singles than people in long-term relationships—and high stress levels can lead to a host of problems, from decreased immunity to digestive issues. While every relationship has its ups and downs, researchers say marriage seems to have a “dampening” effect on stress hormones, allowing twosomes to tackle challenges with their sanity (mostly) intact.
3. Lower Risk for a Fatal Heart Attack
Being in love really may keep your heart pumping. A 2013 study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found that marrieds and cohabiters are less likely than singles to have a deadly heart attack, and more likely to have a better prognosis should they experience a cardiac event. Researchers guess this marital bonus may have to do with the continual support from the extra friends and family marriage affords spouses, plus a partner’s watchful eye monitoring for potential problems.
4. Stronger Bones
Married life can get under your skin, and according to researchers at UCLA, it can even get into your bones. Marriage is tied to better bone mineral density (BMD), reducing the risk for developing osteoporosis. While simply being married had positive effects for men, having a happy relationship was crucial for higher BMD in women. Past research has linked stress with poor BMD, so it makes sense that a supportive partner can lower a spouse’s stress levels and protect bones.
5. Smoother Recovery After Surgery
Having a caretaker isn’t just comforting when you’re on the mend; it could be the difference between life and death. Marrieds in a study from Emory University in Atlanta and Rutgers University in Newark, NJ, who underwent heart surgery were three times more likely than the unhitched to survive for at least three months. Why the better outcome for the coupled-up? “If you’re emotionally connected to someone, you have something to live for,” says clinical psychologist Jeff Ball, PhD, executive director of PCH Treatment Centers in West Los Angeles, CA.
6. Lower Risk for Preventable Death
How many times have you helped your man avoid a mishap? Looking into more than 1 million people over the course of 20 years, researchers from Rice University inHouston and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia determined divorced men and women had double the chance of dying of the most preventable causes of death (fire, poisoning and smoke inhalation) when compared to marrieds. The researchers think marriage provides a near-constant companion to help eschew emergencies.
7. Lower Risk for Deep Depression
You probably won’t notice yourself slipping into emotional despair. “The first symptom of depression is the loss of self-perception,” says sex and relationship expert Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine in New York City and author of Becoming Real. “Your spouse can help identify and prevent a depressive spiral.” Dr. Saltz says since your significant other intimately knows your emotions and routines, he’s well-equipped to detect changes. Make a pact to mention any shifts to each other—and take one another’s observations to heart.
8. Lower Risk for Fatal Cancer
In a stunning study published in the Journal of Oncology in 2013, researchers found that people diagnosed with the most deadly forms of cancer were 20% more likely to beat their diseases if they were married—a higher success rate than some forms of chemotherapy! Being in a stable relationship often allows for early cancer detection, which ups the chances of overcoming the disease. “A spouse can be a ‘good nag,’ encouraging healthy behaviors, like less drinking or drug use, and better preventive care like getting a colonoscopy or a prostate exam,” says Prakash Masand, MD, president of Global Medical Education and former consulting professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center.
9. Lower Risk for Dementia
Staying sharp into old age is more likely if you have a spouse to ease your mind. One study tracked 2,000 middle-aged men and women in Finland for around 20 years and revealed that those living with their significant other during mid-life had a 50% lower chance of developing dementia. Getting divorced without getting remarried led to three times greater odds of cognitive troubles, and those who had been widowed before middle age but never remarried were six times more at risk. The researchers noted the importance of staying intellectually and socially stimulated into old age, which having a lifelong companion can provide.
10. Lower Risk for Chronic Conditions
Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and fibromyalgia aren’t as common among happily married folks as they are among singles and the unhappily married, found researchersat the University of Missouri in Columbia. “Anything that increases stress can have a negative impact on your body, like excessive criticism and holding grudges and resentment,” says psychologist and relationship expert Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, bestselling author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. So being in a healthy marriage could be key to avoiding those long-term diseases.