In this day and age where everyone is looking to get fit and healthy, parents who are being given a hard time by their kids who are unwilling to get married may want to try a new strategy; that getting married can improve your health and your heart.
Yes, they don’t call it ‘marital bliss’ for no reason. 🙂
Multiple scientific papers and research articles have been published that show that getting married can improve your health. The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity‘. Marriage seems to have an effect on all these 3 aspects and more.
Let’s take a look how.
1. Marriage can reduce your chances of dying early
As dramatic as this statement is, getting married has been shown to reduce mortality and morbidity in both men and women. This effect seems to be more prominent in men, who have a 250% higher mortality if unmarried compared to women who have a 50% higher mortality! (Ross et al, 1990)
This effect has sometimes been backed by a ‘protection theory’; marriage can protect people against experiencing poor health outcomes.
But how is this mortality effect changed so dramatically? It appears that after marriage, the health behaviors of both the partners changes. They start exercising together as a way of spending time with each other. They take out health insurance policies to ensure they are covered in times of need. They may undergo annual health check ups to ensure they have good physical health. Many individuals consider giving up smoking and drinking so that they can enjoy their family lives for many years.
The effect of being married also effects the lives of children. Children who are brought up in a household with married parents live longer than those who live in households with divorced or single parent families.
2. Marriage is good for the heart
Individuals who are married have a 5% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, research has shown. This number is variable of course, and a higher degree of risk reduction is seen in those between the ages of 50 to 60 years compared to those over the age of 60.
The statistics are actually quite significant.
In a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, being married was found to reduce the chances of developing a heart attack in both partners significantly. The risk of heart attacks in unmarried individuals was 58 – 66% higher in unmarried men and around 60 – 65% higher in unmarried women. But that’s not all. The chances of dying from a heart attack are also significantly higher in unmarried individuals to the tune of 160 – 175%!
But why this disparity? How does getting married help decrease the chances of a heart attack?
A number of different reasons have been cited. People with bad health already may not want to get married as they worry about the burden they may place on their partner and the financial aspects of looking after a family and their health at the same time.
Those who are married also tend to seek medical attention sooner, which is likely because their partner requests them to do so. This is particularly important when suffering from a heart attack or chest pain, where timely treatment is of the essence.
On the other hand, research has also shown that marital stress can worsen the prognosis of female patients with underlying heart disease. Trouble in paradise can undoubtedly have a negative effect (Orth-Gomer et al, 2000). Marital conflict can increase heart rate and blood pressure, with studies showing these responses tending towards a greater degree in women. Some people have gone to the extent of saying that the risk of a bad marriage on the health of the heart is equivalent to smoking!
3. Marriage could improve your mental health
Being married creates a sense of self worth; many find that the emotional support and intimacy that is expressed by their better halves can be calming and relaxing at times of stress. The social and emotional connection made with another human being can make one very happy.
In the long term, this can reduce the chances of developing depression. The social support received can elevate mood, and evidence suggests that being in a happy marriage can reduce the risk of suicide as well. The fact that there is always someone there ‘who trusts you and accepts you for who you are’ can be very reassuring, offering peace of mind at the most stressful of times.
But there is a dark side to this. In a study published by Pridmore et al, being forced into a marriage can increase the risk of suicide. What is interesting to note is that this attempt at suicide is not related to underlying depression, but is seen in those who previously had perfect mental health. Feelings of entrapment and loss of a potential (and planned) future have all been cited as reasons. In India, a recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau showed that married men were more likely to commit suicide as compared to married women.
Furthermore, the benefits of marriage on mental health may be at it’s peak in the early phases of marriage. This could fade away as time passes.
Getting divorced or widowed can increase symptoms of depression.
Ultimately, it appears that marriage only improves mental health if it is a happy one that is free from stress and financial constraints. How plausible that situation is in reality is debatable.
4. Marriage improves the health of children
We briefly mentioned before that being married can improve the health of the children in the family. A number of theories have been put forward that detail as to how this is possible.
One such theory is that children brought up in a stable home environment where both parents play a role in bringing up the child can promote social and emotional development. More positive outcomes are seen in both adolescents and adulthood. Educational and academic achievements seem to be higher; better emotional well being and mental health are also seen. The use of cigarettes and illicit drugs also reduces significantly.
Longevity of children is extended when brought up in a stable family environment.
5. Being happily married can boost your immunity
In a detailed study where small blisters were created on the skin and observed as to how quickly healing took place through an immune response, two married researchers by names Keicolt and Glaser found that couples who argued took a whole day longer for their wounds to heal compared to those who did not. The higher the hostility levels, the greater the duration of healing.
Marital conflict is part and parcel of all marriages, and arguments often bring couples closer. Working on the marriage is important and compromise can work wonders in keeping it stable. After all, a marriage is an equal partnership, and both deserve to be happy. Maybe a boost in immunity is incentive enough to make a start at working things out?
6. Marriage can reduce pain perception
Pain is subjective, and what might be painful to one may not be so much to another.
In a rather innovative and interesting study conducted by Professor Coan from the University of Virginia, 16 women who reported through a questionnaire that they were in a happy marriage underwent an MRI scan. During the MRI scan, the women were subjected to a tiny electric shock. One group of women had no one in the room when the shock was administered, one group were holding the hand of a stranger and one group were holding the hands of their husbands.
Those who were either alone or holding the hand of a stranger experienced a greater deal of pain when compared to those who were holding the hands of their husband. In fact, the reduction in perception of pain was equivalent to taking a pain killer.
Remarkable, isn’t it?
7. Other positive effects
Being married can improve your health in a number of other ways. For example, some studies have shown that being married can reduce the chance of developing pneumonia, cancer and dementia.
So does this mean being single is a bad thing?
Not at all! There are many single individuals, either unmarried, widowed and divorced who enjoy life to the fullest and are healthy and successful.
Remember, a large part of being healthy depends on your lifestyle as well. Just being married is never sufficient by itself; other aspects of health must be considered.
It appears that marriage can improve your physical, mental and social well being; in other words, if you are looking to get healthy, getting married can improve your health in a number of different ways.
1. Ross, Catherine E., John Mirowsky, and Karen Goldsteen. “The impact of the family on health: The decade in review.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52.4 (1990): 1059-1078.
2. Orth-Gomer, Kristina, et al. “Marital stress worsens prognosis in women with coronary heart disease: The Stockholm Female Coronary Risk Study.” Jama 284.23 (2000): 3008-3014.
3. Pridmore, Saxby, and Garry Walter. “Suicide and forced marriage.” The Malaysian journal of medical sciences: MJMS 20.2 (2013): 47.
4. Married men twice as likely to commit suicide than married women – Report http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Married-men-twice-as-likely-to-commit-suicide-than-married-women-Report/articleshow/48220552.cms
5. Smith TW, Gallo LC, Goble L, Ngu LQ, Stark KA. Agency, communion, and cardiovascular reactivity during marital interaction. Health Psychol 1998;17:537–45