Study: Married people safer, healthier than singles

The benefits of marriage may extend further than you think. In fact, a recent study out of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that people who were married had better odds of surviving cancer than single, widowed, separated, or divorced individuals.

Specifically, the study—which looked at information from over 700,000 cancer patients—found that single people were 17 percent more likely to be diagnosed with metastatic cancer and 53 percent less likely to receive the best treatment. Married folk, meanwhile, were more likely to get diagnosed earlier, get better treatments, and live longer.

The study’s senior author, Paul Nguyen, MD, said it could be as simple as getting that nudge to go see the doctor (it’s been referred to as the “marriage protection hypothesis”).

“You’re going to nag your wife to go get her mammograms. You’re going to nag your husband to go get his colonoscopy. If you’re on your own, nobody’s going to nag you,” Dr. Nguyen told CNN.

Marriage may also prevent accidents and injuries

Being married also seems to be safer, according to a new joint study out of Rice University and the University of Pennsylvania. Using data from over 1.3 million people, the study found that divorced individuals were twice as likely to die from the most-preventable causes of accidental death (as cited by the World Health Organization)—fire, poisoning, and smoke inhalation.

“[M]arital status is influential in that it can provide positive support, may discourage a partner's risk and offer immediate support that saves lives in the event of an emergency,” the study’s lead author, Justin Denney, PhD, told the Huffington Post.

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Happy marriages mean healthier spouses

In a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family that spanned 20 years—the longest of its kind to date—researchers found a strong connection between marital happiness and individual health for both younger couples (ages 18-39) and older couples (40-55). The connection also worked in reverse: healthier spouses were more likely to be in happier marriages.

In another study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers analyzed data from 707 married adults and found that married individuals were less likely to develop chronic health conditions than people who are widowed or divorced.

Christine Proulx, PhD, an associate professor at University of Missouri who co-authored the study suggested the connection is so strong that physicians should take into account their patients’ personal relationships when considering treatment plans.

It’s not all great news for married folk

Despite the positive correlations between marriage and good health, one area in particular shows the opposite effect: a study from Lafayette College found that marriage increases obesity rates for both women and men.

And the connection between life partners and good health may not extend to cohabitating same-sex couples, according to a Michigan State University study. In fact, men living with a same-sex partner were 61 percent more likely to report having ‘poor’ or only ‘fair’ health compared to men in heterosexual relationships. Meanwhile, the odds were 46 percent higher for gay women than their straight, married peers. Why the difference? The study’s authors suggest perhaps partly to blame is the stress from continued homophobia and discrimination.

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Other relationships and their health benefits

In a large 2010 research review, researchers at Brigham Young University analyzed data from 148 studies to conclude that social connections with friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues (ie., not just spouses) improve a person’s odds of survival by 50 percent. That study equated the effects of low levels of social interaction with smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.

“We take relationships for granted as humans—we’re like fish that don’t notice the water,” Timothy Smith, who co-authored the study, said in a news release. “That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

A study out of Oxford University, which will no doubt please males everywhere, found that men’s health and well-being is greatly improved when meeting regularly with their male friends. And the study’s lead author, Robin Dunbar, PhD, was specific with his “prescription”: in person visits, twice a week, and with four friends (he recommends activities like playing football or rugby or meeting at the pub for a pint of beer).

And it’s not just interaction with other human beings that can lead to better health outcomes. According to a trio of recent studies, whose findings were presented in Chicago in August, relationships with our pets are beneficial to our health as well—both physically and emotionally.

“People who are pet owners generally go to the doctor about 15-to-20 percent less often than other people,” Sandra McCune, PhD, the author of one of those studies, told CBS Chicago. “In some studies, people are actually on lower medication or can do without medication.”

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