Marriage is back! After a three-year decline, more Americans are tying the knot, according to a new report. That’s good news, because one of your best routes to a healthier heart, stronger bones, a lower risk for cancer and a longer life is a happy union.
How do you build and maintain yours? We’ve got three surprising strategies, drawn from the latest real-world research.
1. Develop a “relationship work ethic”: You wouldn’t skip an important meeting at work or let your kid miss a big team practice, right? Now there’s proof that making the same commitment to your marriage boosts happiness. Sounds like a no-brainer, but don’t let work, family responsibilities, home maintenance and other demands on your time crowd out the good stuff that feeds your relationship – like dates, daily check-ins, little romantic moments and intimacy.
You’ll end up with: Cleaner, more flexible arteries. Long-married spouses who support each other most of the time had fewer calcium deposits in arteries within the heart, a brand new report says. In contrast, spouses who gave and received loving attention only some of the time – and felt snubbed frequently – had more signs of these dangerous deposits, which can lead to narrow, stiff arteries and a higher risk for a heart attack.
That may be why people who are happily paired-up at midlife are two to three times more likely to live long enough to enjoy their later years compared with folks who are unmarried, widowed or divorced during their 40s and 50s, according to a Duke University study. The benefits to you and your partner continue for as long as you both shall live. Married people in their 80s, 90s and beyond have a lower risk for memory problems and thinking lapses.
2. Talk about the big stuff: Engaged? Newly married? Twenty-five-year veterans? There’s plenty of proof that marriage-education programs can get any union off to a great start or help improve a long-standing one by getting the two of you to talk about important stuff like finances, kids, household chores and communication styles. If you or your partner don’t want to try formal classes, how about “movie marriage therapy?” Watching five popular movies and then discussing key questions cut the divorce rate in half for 174 couples in one recent three-year study. You’ll find a list of movies and questions at www.courses.rochester.edu/surveys/funk.
You’ll end up with: Lower risk for chronic conditions. Open communication helps reduce chronic tension and boosts you and your honey’s self-esteem. That may lower inflammation and blood pressure. Maybe that’s why, compared with singles, married people are less likely to develop the kinds of health problems that require day-in, day-out attention, such as diabetes and heart disease.
3. Don’t underestimate old-fashioned grit: Spouses willing to work as a team, even when it means making individual sacrifices, boost their chance of enjoying a long and happy marriage. A study that tracked 172 couples for a decade found the secret of their success – they didn’t keep score and compromised, within reason, without looking for a payback.
You’ll end up with: Better odds against cancer. Married people who get a cancer diagnosis live longer than those who are single – often because their cancers are caught in earlier, more treatable stages and because they’re more likely to get the best treatment for their cancer type. Having someone around to urge you to keep up with cancer screenings and to support you when you’re making tough decisions about how to handle a scary diagnosis can make all the difference, according to a revealing study from Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
So take time to work on your relationship with your main squeeze. You two will boost your levels of feel-good brain chemicals (especially if you hug – and more!) and take the edge off daily stresses that, over time, boost risk for both relationship and health problems. Then you’ll be ready to make the most of the Happy Couple’s Health Bonus.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.