Is Marriage Good for Your Health? The Answer Is Complicated

Tying the knot can have its health benefits—but it depends on the quality of your relationship.

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Having someone to share your life with can be good for your heart and cognition, but might not be so great for other health-related things, like your waistline. Often, this relies on whether the marriage is a happy one.

“Being married isn't going to guarantee a stress-free life and excellent health. In fact, what matters here is the quality of the relationship, regardless if somebody is married or not,” says Taly Drimer, MD, from TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Curious whether being married is good or bad for you? The answer might not be so straightforward, but here are some surprising ways your life partner can play a role in your health.

Medically reviewed in February 2018.

Marriage might slash your dementia risk

2 / 7 Marriage might slash your dementia risk

One in ten people over age 65 has dementia—and there’s some evidence your significant other may play a role in reducing that risk. A November 2017 review in Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry analyzed data from 800,000 people across Europe, North and South America and Asia. People who were never married were 42 percent more likely to develop dementia than those who were.

“Social interaction can increase cognitive reserve, so this means that a person has a greater ability to cope with all the neuropathological damage that is done by dementia,” says Dr. Drimer. Spouses might also motivate each other to engage in healthy habits such as eating right, getting physical activity, going to regular doctor checkups and making and keeping friends—all of which mean good things for your brain—as well as cutting out bad habits linked to dementia, like smoking or drinking.

That's not all. Widowed study participants had a 20 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who were married, leading researchers to believe dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one can harm cognitive abilities. 

Marriage may lower your risk of heart disease

3 / 7 Marriage may lower your risk of heart disease

A happy marriage might keep your heart happy, too. A study in the June 2016 International Journal of Cardiology looked at how marital status can affect the likelihood of surviving a heart attack. Researchers tracked 929,552 patients, some of whom already had a heart attack and others who just had risk factors for a heart attack, including high blood pressure and cholesterol. At the end of the 13-year study, researchers found married people had a 14 percent higher chance of surviving after the heart attack than those who were not married. Married people with risk factors also had a higher chance of survival.

One reason spouses might fare better, heart-wise: they're calmer. “Being happily married decreases stress,” says Drimer. Lower stress could mean lower blood pressure and less risk of inflammation, which Drimer calls a well-recognized cardiac risk. A married person can also ensure their spouse is taking care of their heart, as well as going to doctor appointments and heart screenings.

What's more, wedded couples can discourage bad lifestyle habits linked to heart issues. “People who are in a happy relationship are less likely to drink excessively or smoke or engage in other risky behaviors,” says Drimer.

Marriage may help your mental health

4 / 7 Marriage may help your mental health

Can being coupled up really affect how happy and stress-free you are? Studies suggest it can.

According to a review of the effects of marriage on health, it may reduce symptoms of depression. Furthermore, people who are married have smaller increases in symptoms over time. On the flip side, getting a divorce boosts symptoms of depression. Experts believe marriage offers an emotional and social support system, which could explain these trends.

But again, this varies depending on if you’re in a happy relationship or not. A single person might have better mental health than a couple who is constantly fighting. “This is a very important point to make because being married and miserable is actually going to increase the chance of depression,” says Drimer. 

Marriage could help strengthen your bones

5 / 7 Marriage could help strengthen your bones

Marriage and milk have something in common: they’re both good for your bones. A study published in January 2014 in Osteoporosis International took measurements from the lumbar spine and femoral neck bone (located in the hip) of 632 adults; both areas are signifiers of healthy bones. Married men had a higher bone density than men who were never married, divorced, widowed or separated from their spouse. Women in happy marriages also had a higher bone density.

Good bone health amongst married couples could be attributed to the way significant others take care of each other, similar to how it helps decrease dementia and heart disease risk. “Being with somebody who is caring and loving and reminds you to take your medication and go to see your primary care physician when it's the time to go can affect overall health,” says Drimer.

Marriage is linked to weight gain for some

6 / 7 Marriage is linked to weight gain for some

Being married can cause some men to pack on a few extra pounds. In a 2014 study in Families, Systems, & Health, researchers analyzed data from a survey of 1,853 adults. While the women did not seem to see changes in their weight after getting married, the men who were polled, did. The married men were 25 percent more likely to be overweight.

“People in relationships which are not satisfactory also gain weight,” says Drimer. "The explanation here is that being unhappy leads to eating behavior and sleep problems which can cause weight gain."

Married women may drink more

7 / 7 Married women may drink more

Are Wine Wednesdays expanding into Tequila Tuesdays now that you’re married? There might be an explanation for that.

A research study of 5,305 men and women showed that married women drink more alcohol than women who were never married, or who were divorced or widowed. Researchers suggested this was likely because the women tried to play catch-up with their husband’s drinking habits.

For married men, the opposite was true. Men who tied the knot actually had fewer boozy beverages on average than those who were not married. When asked why they didn’t drink as much once hitched, the men from the study gave a few main reasons: fewer boys’ nights, their wives drank less than they did—or their wives cut them off.

However, this association flip-flopped when it came to people who are divorced. Men coped with the divorce by drinking, whereas women exhibited symptoms of depression. 

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