Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size

The Importance of Being -- Married

There are many reasons to choose wisely and carefully when picking a spouse, but here's one you may not know: New research suggests that a good marriage is good for your health -- and that a bad one can be a real heartbreaker.

WebMD Feature

There are many good reasons to choose wisely and carefully when picking a spouse -- not the least of which is that you'll be spending an awful lot of time with them in both the near and distant future, possibly even raising children together.

So you want to find someone with whom you are compatible, share values -- someone who makes you happy. But perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to make an informed choice is that your spouse can affect your physical health in very direct, measurable ways.

Recommended Related to Healthy Seniors

National Caregiving Organizations

AARP Administration on Aging Alzheimer's Association Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving Eldercare Locator Family Caregiver Alliance Housing and Urban Development Medicare National Alliance for Caregiving National Center for Assisted Living National Hospice and Palliative Care Center Supportive Ho...

Read the National Caregiving Organizations article > >

"The choice of spouse is one of the most significant you'll make in your life; it is more serious than choosing a house or anything," says Brian Baker, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto. "There is nothing like a good, solid marriage."

The Heart of the Matter

Baker should know: He has spent the past decade conducting studies that look at the effect of marital strain on cardiovascular health. In one of his most recent studies, he followed both men and women with borderline high blood pressure for three years and found that blood pressure is directly linked to what he calls "marital cohesion" -- how much couples do and share together.

"We found that if you had a bad marriage, it was best to avoid your spouse -- because if you are with your spouse, your blood pressure went up, and if you weren't with your spouse, your blood pressure went down," says Baker. "In a good marriage the opposite was the case."

An earlier study found that couples in good marriages had thinner heart walls than those in bad marriages. A thicker heart wall means higher blood pressure, "so that is an interesting finding," says Baker.

While the majority of studies so far have looked at cardiovascular effects, the plusses and minuses of marriage don't appear to be limited to that system.

In fact, they could be tied to how your body handles stress, says Baker, and the way that stress manifests itself could control the system most affected.

"It could be the immune system, or depression, gastrointestinal problems, rashes, or emotional disorders like anxiety conditions," he says.

The Benefits of Wedded Bliss

Baker's research joins a small but growing number of studies pinpointing the varied health effects of marriage. One study, for example, showed that marital stress can double a person's risk of developing diabetes. Another study, out of Sweden, showed women in marital distress had a three times greater risk of a second heart attack. And a third showed that positive marital interactions can boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping stress hormones low.

"The benefits are better physical health, more resistance to infection, fewer infections, and a reduced likelihood of dying from cancer, from heart disease, from all major killers," psychologist and author John Gottman, PhD, tells WebMD. "The other health benefit is longevity: People live longer if they are in marital relationships, particularly if they are in good, satisfying relationships." Gottman, considered by many to be a pioneer in the field of marriage research, is the James Mifflin Professor in the department of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Today on WebMD

Senior man doing press ups in gym
Slideshow
reflection of couple kissing
Quiz
 
man reviewing building plans
Quiz
Women working out and walking with weights
Community
 
fast healthy snack ideas
Article
how healthy is your mouth
Tool
 
dog on couch
Tool
doctor holding syringe
Slideshow
 
champagne toast
Slideshow
Youth listening to headphones
Slideshow
 
Man feeding woman
Slideshow
two senior women laughing
Article