July 30, 2001 -- 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.
Terry Waters, a former college wrestler and baseball player, loved working out. He got real pleasure out of pushing himself hard at the gym, and he liked the feeling of tired but virtuous afterwards. He figured regular physical activity and its health benefits would always be a part of his life.
Then came marriage, three kids, a demanding job as a software engineer in Boston — and a thousand and one excuses not to make it to the gym. “For a little while, you convince yourself you’re still in pretty...
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.
"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.