This Valentine’s Day, approximately one in 12 unmarried couples are expecting a proposal from their significant other. For obvious reasons, Hallmark’s second greatest holiday revenue generator (after Christmas) is one of the most popular days to get engaged or married.
Besides answering love’s true calling, there are a million and one reasons to want to get married—starting a family, tax breaks, lower car insurance premiums, and more social security options, to name a few. But you may have overlooked the biggest reason of all—your health! That’s right, decades of research confirm that people who are in happy marriages live longer than those who are single, and the benefits are strikingly more significant for men than women. Read on to learn the specific health benefits for men, for women, the reasons why married people live longer, and why marriage matters most for older adults. Here’s we’ll dissect the research; the numbers are sure to astound you.
How Couples Benefit From Marriage: A Look at the Research
The number of marriages in America is declining in recent decades. From 2.45 million marriages in 1990 to just 2.08 million marriages in 2010, it is clear that the divorce rate has made a huge dent in the institution of love. Couple that with the fact that more people are choosing to remain single and fewer people are getting remarried after divorce, and you can see how this number plummeted so dramatically.
Although marriage may not work for everyone, when it does work, it can be a beautiful thing for your health. A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that married couples had lower levels of cortisol in their 24-hour saliva samples compared to single people or those who were divorced. Cortisol is a stress hormone made in the body. Excess amounts of this hormone can lead to several illnesses. Marriage has been found to have a protective effect against the following health conditions:
- Heart Disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Marriage also protects one from everyday stressors. And we all know a build-up of stress has lasting impacts on our quality of life and overall health. So minimizing stress on a day-to-day really does play a role in the prevention of illnesses and even longevity.
According to a study conducted by Brigham Young University, happily married couples have lower blood pressure readings than single people. In fact, over a 24-hour period, married folks’ blood pressure scored a whole four points lower than their single counterparts. Now, that’s an extra good reason to snuggle up with your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day as lower blood pressure is a key indicator of a healthy, happy heart.
It wouldn’t be fair to not share the flip side of this story with you, however. In that same study, and maybe not so surprisingly, unhappily married adults had higher blood pressure readings than both the single participants and the married couples. This finding shows that marital stress can have a negative impact on stress levels, immunity, and even heart function. In fact, many experts agree that marital discord can be even worse for your health than workplace stress.
So while there are many health benefits to being married, it’s important to remember that few of these health benefits apply to unhealthy or toxic marriages.
Health Benefits of Marriage for Women
It is well-known that higher socioeconomic status contributes to marital happiness. But did you know higher educational achievement does too? One study looked at happiness levels of 7,938 married people living in China, Japan, and Korea. Researchers unequivocally found that the husband and wife were both happier in their marriages if they were well-educated compared to couples who had little or no education.
What makes this study interesting, however, is that the mental health of well-educated women was significantly improved when her husband was also well-educated; additionally, women in this situation (known as “higher balanced marriages” by the research team) used much higher ratings for their self-reported health status. This finding seems to shed light on a woman’s inherent need for understanding and reciprocity in her relationship. We might venture to speculate that sharing a life with a well-educated man may contribute to a stable, emotionally intelligent relationship whereby an educated woman feels safe and appreciated.
In a separate 2016 study published in the BMC Public Health journal, 9,615 adults aged 60 and over from seven diverse regions of India were followed. Researchers found that recently widowed women were at a greater risk for psychological distress and hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to married women or men who had lost their wives. Widowed women also rated their health more poorly than married women or widowers. Widowers seemed to fare better than widows in most health outcomes measured in the study although their risk of diabetes did increase. These results indicate that women may experience a higher degree of physical and mental health problems following the loss of a spouse.
Health Benefits of Marriage for Men
Although generally speaking, both sexes benefit from being in a loving, stable relationship, decades of research provide clear evidence that men and marriage go together like peas and carrots. Read on to learn why this age-old institution does a man’s body good.
In a study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, researchers assessed the benefits of being married in low-income men aged 30 and over. They found that men who were continuously married (as opposed to those making a transition to separation or divorce) were less likely to pass away over the five-year longitudinal study. Interestingly enough, even men in very high-conflict marriages had a reduced mortality risk compared to divorced men or those who were never married. This finding shows that marriage seems to protect men from illness and death (even if they’re not necessarily content in their relationships).
So what types of marriages are most beneficial for guys? We’ve got the research to help fill you in. In a survey of 127,545 American men, researchers collected the following two key findings:
- Men who stayed married longer lived longer than their unmarried peers.
- Men who waited until they were 25 or older to get married reaped more health benefits.
Naysayers of these types of findings argue that healthier men are more likely to get married than unhealthy men (and therefore these results are skewed). The thing is, researchers have already vetted out this possibility by determining that unhealthy men are actually more likely to get married at an early age, get divorced, and remarry following divorce (all factors that do not contribute to long-term, stable marriages that result in health benefits).
Bottom line? Men who stay with their wives for decades on end and men who wait until they’re well into adulthood to get married experience better health and greater longevity. It’s the long-term, mature relationships that really count.
What other factors make marriage ideal for men? As it turns out, landing a wicked smart wife may be the best thing a man can do to stay alive longer. A 2009 study reported that men who marry educated women fare best of all, benefiting from a lower risk of heart disease and these chronic health issues:
- High cholesterol
That’s right, smart women promote healthy hearts in the men they love. Educated women even help their men quit smoking and start exercising, boosting their chances of living a long life.
Men suffering from health issues also do much more favorably when married. In a 17-year study, researchers found that married men with prostate cancer lived for about 69 months following their diagnosis while separated men or widowers lived for only 49 months. That’s a difference of nearly two years of life. Think of all you could do in two years—with your partner, with your children, travel-wise, and in your spiritual journey.
Bladder cancer, a disease most prominent in men, also seems to be buffered by the protective effects of marriage according to researchers at Harvard and UCLA.
Reasons Why Married Couples Live Longer
So what are the reasons married people live longer? Most experts in the field chalk it up to the following:
A Harvard study found that socially isolated men were 82 percent more likely to die from a heart attack compared to men who had strong interpersonal relationships. Loneliness is linked to shorter life spans and more depressive symptoms. Those who experience loneliness may be more likely to use drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate and reduce their symptoms of depression. Through companionship, it appears that married couples are able to combat loneliness and find happiness in each other (not harmful outside forces).
Having a beloved by your side to validate your feelings, care for you when you’re sick, and comfort you during times of sadness or disappointment can do wonders for your health.
Encouraging each other to adopt healthy habits
People with spouses are more likely to be encouraged to adopt healthier habits. For instance, a man helping his wife recover from a knee replacement might suggest going on evening strolls to help her gain her strength back. Or a wife might start cooking differently for her husband once she finds out he has been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Whether it’s walking around the neighborhood, cutting out processed foods, or enjoying two cups of steaming Chamomile tea before bedtime, more often than not, couples adopt healthy life habits together.
Why Marriage Matters Most for Older Adults
New research shows that the growing number of remarried and unmarried adults in today’s society may increase these folks’ chances of ending up in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home or an assisted living community. That’s because married older adults are half as likely to enter these type of facilities. This finding is very important given that most older adults prefer to “age in place” (or age in the comfort of their own home) than age in an unfamiliar facility that may not offer the best support system. Intimate partnerships outside of marriages have also been shown to act as a buffer against admission into long-term care facilities. So keep your sweetie extra close as you age for a better chance of growing old in your home sweet home.
It turns that being in a marriage following a major surgery can do wonders for middle-aged and older adults in terms of longevity as well. A study conducted by the University of Rochester followed 225 people aged 33 to 80 following coronary bypass surgery. Incredibly, researchers found that participants in a happy marriage were three times more likely to be alive than their unmarried counterparts 15 years later. But as you might have guessed, the quality of the marriage contributed to the survival rate. Here’s a look at the numbers:
- 83 percent of happily married wives were still alive
- 28 percent of unhappily married wives were still alive
- 27 percent of unmarried women were still alive
- 83 percent of happily married husbands were still alive
- 60 percent of unhappily married husbands were still alive
- 36 percent of unmarried men were still alive
These numbers reflect what we’ve discussed throughout this article: men and women both reap significant health benefits through marriage but men seem to fare far better than women (happy or not). Women are profoundly affected by the ramifications of an unhealthy marriage.
In older age, the support of a spouse can help with the small things (remembering to take your medication on time) and the big things (being your caretaker after a life-changing surgery). This support helps older adults stay happy, healthy, mobile, and out of the hospital. Who could ask for more than that?
Sharing the News of Love
This Valentine’s Day, go home and share this special secret with your sweetheart: you’ll both live longer because you have each other. Show them the research and prove your everlasting love.
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