I went to a wedding last night. It was the usual biblical quotes, toasts and celebration, with an Irish limerick thrown in for good measure that wished the newlyweds happiness and a long life.
For some, this is fodder for late night TV comedians – “it just feels like a long life.” What’s funny is we seem to have the will and interest to endlessly debate trivial matters, such as whether almonds or walnuts are better for your health?
But nuts aside, did you know marriage affects your health as much as smoking? Interestingly enough, we have known about the health benefits of marriage much longer than we have known that smoking is bad for you.
Marriage research dates back more than 150 years. William Farr was an early explorer into the uncharted peaks of marital bliss. He did a study, sorting people into groups: never married, married presently, and widowed.
The married group lived the longest. Of course, the 1850s lacked indoor plumbing, regular bathing or deodorant. That gives new meaning to “the devil you have.” In 1850, life expectancy was 38 for men and 40 for women, so marriages seldom lasted past their china anniversary (20 years).
That marriage can create a reduction in heart disease is not surprising. Lifestyle factors heavily influence heart disease. One example is sleep. Bedtime and sleep are more regular for the married contingent.
Most married people eat a better diet than single people, drink less alcohol, and have less stress. Smoking is reduced in married people, and there is less depression.
Add up all these factors and you get an extra 5-7 years of life, which is also what you get from quitting smoking. It is somewhat a shame that the extra half decade is tacked on to the end of your life, instead of when you really need it – like now (wouldn’t you like to be 5 years younger right this minute?).
Marriage also protects you from cancer, and helps you beat it. This is true for the 10 most deadly cancers in this country (for those who must know: lung, colorectal, breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, head and neck cancer, ovarian and esophageal).
Married people get their cancer diagnosed at an earlier, more treatable stage. They get the recommended therapy over twice as often as singles. The effect of marriage on cancer is so powerful it has been said: “Your marital state has more impact on cancer survival than chemotherapy.”
Accidental death is sorted into the preventable (fire, smoke inhalation and poisoning), and the not very preventable (airline crash, asteroid impact). Marriage doesn’t protect you a bit if an asteroid is headed your way. But you are only half as likely to die from most accidental causes. As a single male, you are four times more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a married male.
Socioeconomically married people make more money, get promoted faster, and live better than the average single person.
But all is not happiness and contentment in marital citadel. Being in a bad marriage is not protective of your health. Bad marriages are serious life stressors that reverse any of the above mentioned gains.
So I will leave all you married folks with this sage advice: Play nice!
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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