Married Men (and Women) Really are Healthier and
Respond Better to Certain Treatments
Although single men may tout the joys of living the carefree “bachelor’s life,” it turns out married men may have an advantage. Numerous studies have proven that married life is good for men, physically, mentally and spiritually as well as women.
In fact, a recent study by UCLA researchers, published in an issue of the journal Cancer, found that, compared with single men, men with prostate cancer who are married, or even just in a relationship, reported:
- Better psychosocial and spiritual well-being
- Fewer adverse effects from treatment
- Less fear and anxiety about their cancer coming back
Is saying “I do” key to a long, healthy life for men?
Said Dr. Mark Litwin, the study’s senior author, a UCLA professor of urology and public health, and a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher, “The message for men with prostate cancer is this: It is good to be partnered and have a support system following treatment … Now we need to find a way to encourage the use of support groups and support systems in patients who aren’t married or in relationships so they can do better, too.”
But the positive effects of marriage extend to healthy men too …
Married Men Lead Healthier Lifestyles
A study of nearly 30,000 men co-authored by Dr. Ichiro Kawachi of the Harvard School of Public Health found that those who had been recently divorced or widowed had markedly different–and less healthy–lifestyle habits than men in relationships. Compared with married men, those who had recently been divorced:
- Ate fewer vegetables (by two servings per week)
- Were more likely to smoke
Those who had been widowed:
- Ate fewer vegetables (by more than three servings per week)
- Were more likely to drink heavily (more than 21 drinks a week)
The men were also more likely to eat more fried foods.
Married People are Healthier … but Most Husbands are Overweight
A survey of 127,545 people, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, found that married people reported better overall health, less low back pain, fewer headaches and less stress than singles. They also were less likely to drink and smoke, and were more physically active.
However, the one area where married men did not win out was weight. While 65 percent of all men were overweight or obese, about 71 percent of husbands fit this category. (For women, the rates of overweight and obesity were virtually the same at 48.6 percent for married women and 48.5 percent for women in general.)
“In general, married adults were the least likely to experience health problems and the least likely to engage in risky health behaviors, with the notable exception of being overweight,” said health statistician Charlotte Schoenborn.
Other studies have found that men who are divorced or separated have double the risk of suicide, and a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dying prematurely. Plus, lower blood pressure in men has been linked to support from a spouse. Married men even tend to get promoted at work more often.
What Makes Marriage so Healthy?
No one knows for sure why married men tend to be healthier than their single counterparts, but theories have been offered. One is that being married gives you advantages in terms of money, encouragement to lead a healthy lifestyle and social and psychological support–all of which are protective of health.
Charlotte Schoenborn gave another theory known as “marital selection.” She explains it as, “The theory that healthy people get married and stay married, whereas less healthy people either do not marry or are more likely to become separated, divorced or widowed.”
What About Women?
Men often depend on their wife as their sole source of support.
Marriage benefits women too, but studies show that the marriage has to be a happy one to do so. Women who report happy marriages show many of the same health benefits as men. However, said Linda C. Gallo, PhD, co-author of the University of Pittsburgh’s Healthy Women study:
“Women in distressed marriages–and in this group, this meant they were not all that distressed, but less happy than other women–already suffered the negative effects of being in a less-than-happy marriage … The women in happy marriages were thinner, gained less weight over time, and had lower cholesterol levels. The less happy women tended to exercise less,”
Why is it that women only benefit from happy marriages but men tend to benefit no matter what? “What is most striking is that men’s support is so heavily dependent on one partner–the wife,” says Boston University psychologist Deborah Belle, EdD. “Women specialize in providing support. Women’s socialization and subordinate social status trains women to focus on others’ needs–and more than men, they believe that others’ needs can be met. Often women dedicate their lives to providing support for others.”
This doesn’t mean that men and women are doomed unless they’re married (and happily married for women)–single people, especially those with strong networks of friends and fulfilling careers, can be healthy and happy too.