Want to Live Longer? Commit to It

As most of us know, it's important to eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, avoid smoking, and reduce stress in order to live a long life. But there's another way you can extend your lifespan that has nothing to do with your daily health habits: get married and stay married.

Comedians' jokes about wedded bliss aside, research has shown that people who are married tend to die later than single folks. An analysis of dozens of studies across several continents reveals that married women are healthier mentally than their unattached counterparts, while married men get a physical boost from their unions.

What exactly can marriage do for you? Its benefits are numerous.

Being happily partnered puts you at lower risk for:

  • pneumonia
  • cancer
  • heart attacks
  • any type of surgery

You're also at less risk of:

  • developing dementia
  • being the victim of a homicide
  • being involved in a car accident

But don't think that these benefits are automatically conferred on your honeymoon; the health benefits of having a spouse develop over time. Researchers believe that women gain emotionally from being married because women traditionally place a premium on relationships, while men benefit physically because their wives are a good influence on their lifestyle, watching over their diets and making sure they don't skip medical appointments.

So if marriage is good for your health, shouldn't everyone start planning a wedding? Here's the caveat about coupledom: It only extends your life if you're in a happy twosome.

If your marriage is strained, you're likely to be worse off mentally than someone who's single. A recent study provides evidence that someone in a bad marriage may have heart risks as great as if he or she smoked regularly. And another study shows that never-married folks are in better health than those who married but got divorced.

The bottom line? Get married if you're in love and want to spend your life with another person—you'll reap major health benefits. But don't do it just because you want to live to be 100. Chances are the stress of a difficult relationship will leave you worse off than before.

Gallacher D, Gallacher J. Are Relationships Good For Your Health? Student BMJ, January 28, 2011; New York Times, Is Marriage Good For Your Health?, April 18, 2010.