Q: Chuck, I recently heard that marriage can improve a man's health. I don't know whether that holds true for a few of my friends' bad relationships, but for those whose marriage is good, it does seem as if their lives are flourishing. So when it comes to love and marriage, is good health marital bliss or marital myth? — "Looking for Love" in Minnesota
A: Believe it or not, there is some fascinating evidence regarding the link between marriage and health. But whether marriage is good or bad for your health depends largely on whether you have a good relationship or a bad one. Let me explain.
In July 2010, Harvard Men's Health Watch had a fabulous edition on the relation between health and marriage, but with a few twists and turns.
First, HMHW noted how many studies conducted over the past 150 years revealed that marriage is good for one's health. In particular, HMHW cited a major survey of 127,545 American adults that showed that married men are healthier and even live longer than men who have never been married, are divorced or are widowers.
But then HMHW asked a critical question: Is marriage itself responsible for better health and a longer life?
HMHW's answer: Yes and no. Marriage at least deserves part of the credit: "People living with unmarried partners tend to fare better than those living alone, but men living with their wives have the best health of all."
And when I say that marriage increases your health, the benefits are across the board — from increasing mental health to reducing America's leading killers, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Here are a few key findings by HMHW:
—"Mental health is the most prominent; married men have a lower risk of depression and a higher likelihood of satisfaction with life in retirement than their unmarried peers. Being married has also been linked to better cognitive function, a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, improved blood sugar levels, and better outcomes for hospitalized patients. In contrast, widowhood boosts the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases in men, but not women."
—"Japanese scientists reported that never-married men were three times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than married men. ... Even after taking major cardiovascular risk factors such as age, body fat, smoking, blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol into account, (a report from the Framingham Offspring Study showed that) married men had a 46 percent lower rate of death than unmarried men."
—"A 2002 study found that the more educated a man's wife, the lower his risk for coronary artery disease and risk factors such as hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, smoking, and lack of exercise. And a 2009 study reported that men married to more educated women also enjoyed a lower death rate than men married to less educated women."
—Though "there is little evidence that marriage reduces the overall risk of getting cancer ... a study of 27,779 cancer cases found that unmarried individuals were more likely to have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than married persons. ... (They were also) less likely to receive treatment than married patients, (and) marriage was linked to improved survival." HMHW added that the "University of Miami investigated 143,063 men with (prostate cancer). Over a 17-year period, married men survived far longer (median 69 months) than separated and widowed patients (38 months); men who had never married had an intermediate survival rate (49 months)." Similar evidence was found for married patients with bladder cancer, another predominantly male disease.
That's the good news about a good marriage. The bad news is that if you're in a bad marriage, your health may not fare so well. HMHW noted, for example, that a British study of 9,011 civil servants linked a 34 percent increase in the risk of heart attacks and angina to stress in relationships. Moreover, an Israeli study of 10,059 men linked stressful family relationships with a 34 percent risk increase of dying from stroke. And the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, which studied 10,904 married American men, found that men who divorced were 37 percent likelier to die during the nine-year study than men who remained married.
Interestingly, divorce also instigated a higher rate of suicide by men, but not women. And for men whose wives died from any cause, there was an increase in sickness, disability and mortality rates among the widowed husbands within a period of a few years after their spouses passed.
It's been noted how the longer a couple is together the greater the similarities are between both people. In 2009, Italian scientists studying the patterns of 100,000 couples from 71 earlier studies discovered that most couples did in fact share similar risk factors for obesity, cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and smoking. No doubt, lifestyle and choice of spouse contributed there, too. That's also why Australian doctors try to improve the health of each member of a couple simultaneously. HMHW called it "couples therapy with a new twist."
All the preceding information and studies may not tell us whether we should marry, but what they do tell us is that if we do, it's worth our while — time, money and energy — to continue to invest in building the happiest and most holistically healthy relationships that we can in body, mind and spirit. All the more reason for your weekly dose of encouragement from "C-Force"!
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.