A new 16 year study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health has found that there’s a link between happy marriages and heart health. People who were in happy marriages that kept getting better had better cholesterol, healthier weights, and better blood pressure than those in marriages that went south. And it’s not the first time heart health and marriage have been linked—research consistently shows the happy marriages mean healthier hearts than being single or being in an unhappy marriage.
But the truth is, that’s not the only health benefit of marriage. There are numerous ways being married has been shown to make you stronger and more resilient. There’s just one big caveat: most of these benefits are based off of being in a happy marriage. The truth is, being in a marriage that isn’t working for you can be really detrimental—relationship breakdown is linked to stress, anxiety, and so much more. It’s a reminder that marriage isn’t just about getting married, it’s about keeping that marriage alive and fulfilling for both of you.
And if you’ve managed to crack the secret to a happy marriage, there are so many bonuses. Here are some of the ways marriage can help your health.
It Helps You Sleep Better
Especially for women, marriage has been linked to improved sleeping habits, which are so crucial to overall wellbeing. "Sleep is a critically important health behavior that we know is associated with heart disease and psychiatric well-being," Wendy Troxel, an assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, told the Wall Street Journal. In 2009, a study of Troxel’s looked at women’s sleep patterns over a six to eight year period and found that women in long-term, stable relationships fell asleep faster and slept better than those who weren’t. And though sharing a bed with someone isn’t always easy—especially if they toss and turn or snore— the psychological benefits may outweigh the physical ones. The research found that feelings of safety and security helped you sleep better, making up for the sometimes annoying aspects of sharing a bed with someone.
It Helps You Fight Cancer
This is a big one. A study from the University of California that looked at nearly 800,000 people found that married people were more likely to survive a fight against cancer, due to increased social support. But other research has shown that going through a separation can make fighting cancer more difficult, so it’s important to keep your marriage working. And it’s not just cancer—research has also shown better recovery rates from major surgeries, so it looks like a happy marriage can help you bounce back in a lot of different ways. You’ve got a built-in support network, which can make a huge difference.
Better At Fighting Stress
Stress, like sleep, affects so much of your life and can be really detrimental for your health. But long-term partnerships can improve the way your bodies deals with stress, through changes in your stress hormones. "These results suggest that single and unpaired individuals are more responsive to psychological stress than married individuals, a finding consistent with a growing body of evidence showing that marriage and social support can buffer against stress," Dario Maestripieri, Professor in Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago and lead author of one of these studies, said in a press release. So even though marriage can be tough, it makes us better at tackling all the stress that comes our way.
Less Risk Of Mental Illness
Studies have shown married people also have less chance of developing mental illnesses. Again, it seems the reasoning for this is, in part, linked to the social support you get from being in a marriage. “Poor social supports (as might be more likely for those who are single) have been strongly linked with higher rates of depression, loneliness, and social isolation, which have in turn been associated with poorer health outcomes,” Harvard Health Publishing explains. Being married means that you already have a built-in level of support, as long as the marriage is a strong one.
When it comes to health benefits, surely living longer is about as good as it gets. And that’s exactly what marriage can do. One study looked at data from almost 5,000 individuals who took the University of North Carolina Alumni Heart Study and found that being married during your midlife years was linked to lower rates of premature death. So if you decide to spend your lives together, there’s a good chance that they’ll be long ones.
Being married might not be easy, but it certainly has some massive benefits. It’s not just having a life partner, having emotional support, and being able to share experiences with someone. These studies show that marriage can actually have a huge impact on your physical well-being. As long as you keep your marriage healthy, it should return the favor.