The Marriage Benefit
“Marriage is sort of like a life preserver or a seat belt,” University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite, Ph.D., author of The Case for Marriage, told The New York Times. “We can put it in exactly the same category as eating a good diet, getting exercise, and not smoking.”
Marriage helps health most when couples imitate each others healthy habits. When Brigham Young University researchers checked up on 4,746 married couples ages 51 to 61, they found that couples are mirrors when it comes to health status: A man in his early 50s in excellent health had a very low chance of having a wife in fair or poor health. But if the man’s health was poorer, the chance of his wife being in fair or poor health increased. Why? Couples live in the same environments when it comes to food, exercise, and stress reduction. They also share emotional stresses.
Healthy living is a win-win choice for married couples. You not only improve your individual health and longevity, you also create wonderful opportunities to do things together.
Read on for the eight ways you can use your relationship to give your physical well-being a big boost.
1. Work Out Together
Kimberly and Gary Jordan of Spartanburg, South Carolina, find time for a daily
three-mile walk in their neighborhood. They unwind, catch up with each other,
and burn nearly 300 calories each per outing. “It’s such a blessing, having
time to talk and walk together outdoors and unwind,” Kimberly says. Another
often-overlooked couple’s workout you shouldn’t miss: Sex. Making love gets the
heart pumping and burns about 50 calories (hey, it’s not a marathon, but it
will burn off an Oreo!). But that’s not all. Fun in bed triggers the release of
feel-good endorphins, natural opiates, and the cuddle hormone oxytocin. It
increases blood flow to the brain, boosts immunity (according to some studies),
and improves mental health.
2. Lose Weight Together
Ed and Sylvia Robertson recently completed a year’s
membership in Weight Watchers and shed a combined 112 pounds. “One of the goals
we kept setting for ourselves was better health and more exercise, but we just
kept flopping at it,” Sylvia says. “We needed a program we could do together.
We were also concerned about prediabetes.” Adds Ed, “We’ve had that gradual
middle-aged creep. Now, we’re skinny again! I went from a size 49 waist to a
32! We said to ourselves that our health is important, that our bodies are
worth all this effort to eat right and get more exercise.”
3. Eat Like a Woman...
Men reap nutritional benefits when they marry, while women’s
diets slide after they say “I do,” concluded a recent review of 23 studies on
the health consequences of coupledom. “A man’s diet tends to become healthier
when he starts cohabiting with a female partner, and her influence has a
long-term positive impact. In contrast, women eat more unhealthy foods and tend
to put on weight when they move in with a male partner,” says lead researcher
Amelia Lake, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Newcastle University’s Human
Nutrition Research Center in Great Britain. An Australian study of 3,000
couples found that men ate more fat, salt, and sugar before moving in with a
partner and less afterward—as women took over more of the grocery shopping
and food prep. Meanwhile, women’s intakes of fat and calories went up, as did
Other research cited by Dr. Lake has found that by her 10th
anniversary, a married woman is likely to have put on 19 pounds. Bottom line?
Women: Follow your healthy food instincts. Men: Follow her lead.
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4. ...and Exercise Like a Man
A new University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
study of 3,075 women and men ages 70 to 79 found that highly active men were
three times more likely to have highly active wives. If your guy golfs, plays
tennis, runs, walks, is in a basketball league, or enjoys other physical
activities, go along. Play or participate if you can, or use the time to follow
your own exercise routine.
5. Argue Amicably—or Practice Reducing Stress
A growing stack of research links unhappy marriages with unfortunate health
consequences. A study of 105 middle-aged British civil service workers found
that women and men with more marital worries had higher levels of the stress
hormone cortisol as well as higher levels of stress and high blood pressure—factors that raise risk for heart attack and stroke. Marital tensions have also
been connected with depression, more gum disease, and
higher risk for stomach ulcers.
6. Take a Vacation
University of Pittsburgh psychiatry researchers who tracked the health of
12,000 men with heart problems for nine years found that guys who took annual
vacations had a lower risk of death than those who skipped these much-needed
breaks. Vacations may protect health by cutting stress, by putting you in a relaxing
setting with family and friends, and by giving you an opportunity to get more
7. Take Responsibility for Your Health
Traditionally, a stay-at-home wife guarded marital health by cooking healthy
meals and planning stress-relieving, mood-boosting activities. She probably
also nagged her guy to eat his broccoli, go to bed earlier, get more sleep, and
take his vitamins. An intriguing University of Chicago study found that in
two-career couples, a husband’s odds for good health drop 25 percent if his
wife works full-time. The moral? Husbands and wives should take charge of their
health, notes lead study author Ross Stolzenberg, Ph.D. Working as a team
yields better results than designating one partner as head coach and nag.
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8. Learn All You Can
Healthy living can seem like a moving target: One day fat’s
all bad; the next, it’s a miracle weight-loss food. One day, walking fast is
all the rage; the next, a slow routine is touted by yet another expert as the
best way to burn fat. What’s right? The answer: It usually doesn’t matter. The
basics of healthy living are undeniable: getting up and moving most days for 30
minutes or more; eating modest portions at meals; choosing fruits, vegetables,
whole grains, and lean meat as your primary foods; having a positive attitude;
getting a good night’s sleep; taking a multivitamin. This is simple, proven
wisdom that alone can transform your health—and if you learn about it with a partner, you're more likely to take action.