Men may experience cold feet days, or just moments before they walk down the aisle and say the words “I do” to their future life-long partner. Although getting married could seem like risky business, putting a ring on it could provide men with greater health rewards — at the right age that is. According to a recent study published in peer-reviewed journal Osteoporosis International, men who marry after age 25 have greater bone health, while women with supportive partners have stronger bones.
The growing body of scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of marriage ranges from a decreased risk of cancer to increasing sexual behavior among couples. These benefits can help a couple’s health and happiness as long as they’re in a good marriage. It is widely known that good marriages promote health and longevity, but stressful marriages tend to have the opposite effect, especially in men due to biological, behavioral, and psychological factors, says the Harvard Medical School.
Men who experience marital conflicts tend to report higher levels of stress with hormones, such as adrenaline raising blood pressure. Marital-related stress can also trigger the production of cytokines — small proteins that set the inflammatory cycle in motion — a cardiac risk factor. Aside from biological factors, behavioral factors play a crucial role in the lives of unmarried, divorced, and widowed men. The Harvard Medical School says these men are less likely to exercise and more prone to engage in risky behaviors, whereas married men typically get regular medical care and benefit from a higher standard of living. Psychologically, feelings of loneliness, depression, and social isolation have been associated with the high mortality rate seen in men who have experienced bereavement, divorce, or have never been married.
A team of researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, sought to examine the association between marriage and bone health, along with socioeconomic and behavioral factors known to influence bone mass. Data was obtained from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, which recruited 362 men and women between the ages 25 and 75 in 1995-96. The participants from that study were re-interviewed in 2004-05 (MIDUS II).
Bone mineral density was measured by recording hip and spine bone-density obtained by the standard bone-density scanners during participants' MIDUS II visits at UCLA, Georgetown University, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The study authors also took into consideration medications, health behaviors, and menopause — factors that may influence bone health.
The findings revealed several significant associations between marriage and bone health, but only for men. Those who were in long-term stable marriages or marriage-like relationships had higher bone density in the spine than every other male group. This included men currently married who were either previously divorced or separated, men not currently in a relationship, and men who had never been married.
The correlation was stronger among men who married at age 25 or older, according to Science Daily. The male participants who wedded prior to turning 25 saw a significant reduction in spine bone strength for each year they were married before that age." Very early marriage was detrimental in men, likely because of the stresses of having to provide for a family," said study co-author Dr. Arun Karlamangla, a professor of medicine in the geriatrics division at the Geffen School, in the UCLA news release.
Although the researchers did not find any similar links between bone health and being married or in a marriage-like relationship for women, they did find evidence that supportive partners led to greater bone strength in females. Participants who received positive encouragement from their partners had better bone health compared to those whose partners didn't appreciate them, understand how they felt, or were emotionally unsupportive in other ways.
"Good health depends not only on good health behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking," Carolyn Crandall, another professor at UCLA, explained, "but also on other social aspects of life, such as marital life stories and quality of relationships.” While marriage before age 25 and marital disputes may lead to the depletion of bone health in men, women’s bone health thrives in marital quality. Medline Plus says bone mass or density is lost as people age, as the bones lose calcium and other minerals, especially in women after menopause. This finding can help counteract the effects aging has on bone density.
In a similar study published in the journal of Family Psychology, a team of researchers at the University of Missouri, found married people have better mental and physical health than their unmarried peers and are less susceptible to developing chronic conditions. The findings also revealed in all stages of marriage, positive or negative relationships affect the individuals’ health. “We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age,” said Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, in the MU news release. “Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people’s spirits and well-being and lower their stress.”
These studies highlight that marriage doesn’t directly cure or help prevent illnesses, but the strength of these relationships can positively influence a patient’s health. The findings suggest doctors implement new strategies that place emphasis on including families and spouses in patients’ care to help them understand their partners’ condition and improve the overall health of the couple.
Binkley N, Crandall CJ, Greendale GA, Karlamangla AS, Miller-Martinez D, and Seeman T. Marital histories, marital support, and bone density: findings from the Midlife in the United States Study. Osteoporosis International. 2014.
Proulx CM, Snyder-Rivas LA. The longitudinal associations between marital happiness, problems, and self-rated health. Journal of Family Psychology. 2013.