A study conducted on 3,335 adults in England revealed a correlation between a healthier blood sugar level and being married or cohabiting with a partner.
By: Kimberly Rodrigues
Based on a substantial body of evidence, marriage appears to be associated with a longer and healthier life. This contrasts with individuals who are divorced, widowed, or have never tied the knot.
Research has shown that even an unsatisfying marriage can still have positive impacts on one’s health, as couples are found to be at a lower risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes compared to those who are single.
A study conducted on 3,335 adults in England, ranging in age from 50 to 89 and undergoing regular health checks including blood tests to assess the risk of type 2 diabetes, revealed a correlation between a healthier blood sugar level and being married or cohabiting with a partner, The Times reports.
The results are reported to have remained consistent regardless of the quality of the relationship while divorce was found to be associated with a detrimental increase in blood sugar levels.
Speaking about the effect of marriage on couples, social-health psychologist Rosie Shrout, told The Guardian in an earlier report, “They have better psychological wellbeing, they are less likely to develop illnesses, and they heal faster when they are sick.”
The recent study
At the start of the study, 76 per cent of the participants reported being either married or cohabiting with a partner and were assessed on the quality of their relationship.
The participants were reportedly subjected to a series of questions aimed at evaluating the amount of stress and support in the relationship, such as whether their spouse understood their emotions, if they caused annoyance, and the extent of criticism directed at each other.
These responses were then compared with the participants’ blood sugar levels, which were monitored regularly over the course of the 11-year study.
On average, marriage was associated with a 0.21 per cent decrease in blood sugar levels, a finding that the authors considered significant and would lower the likelihood of premature death.
This decreased risk was also found to be applicable “regardless of dimensions of spousal support or strain.”
The results of the study were published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care and the conclusion reached was that marriage appeared to have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes, helping to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range.
Additionally, a recent report in The Conversation informs, in addition to its protective effect on blood sugar levels, marriage provides a sense of belonging and increased social engagement for partners, reducing feelings of loneliness.
Social integration, defined as the degree to which an individual is involved in social relationships and activities, has a profound impact on health and well-being, ranging from a lower risk of hypertension, heart disease, and death to a reduced likelihood of suicide.
Marriage helps reduce inflammation
The connection between marriage and health also supposedly encompasses the body’s inflammatory response.
Studies have established a correlation between loneliness and a lack of close relationships with inflammation, which is the body’s mechanism for responding to illness, injury, or disease.
While inflammation is necessary for the healing process, chronic inflammation is reportedly associated with various health issues, including heart disease, arthritis, cancers, and autoimmune diseases.
Despite the fact that single adults can have deep and meaningful close relationships, a healthy marriage provides more opportunities for intimacy and socialisation, supporting the link between marriage and a reduction in inflammation.
Importance of social activities for older adults
Therefore, the authors of the study, from the universities of Ottawa and Luxembourg, emphasise the importance of older individuals who are living alone to engage in social activities, such as going on dates, and starting a relationship to decrease their likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
According to the study’s authors, “Increased support for older adults who are experiencing the loss of a marital or cohabiting relationship through divorce or bereavement, as well as the dismantling of negative stereotypes around romantic relationships in later life, may be starting points for addressing health risks, more specifically deteriorating [blood sugar] regulation, associated with marital transitions in older adults.”
The study highlights the necessity of addressing “ageism and stereotypes of ‘asexual’ older adults,” which it described as an obstacle to dating and social connectedness among the elderly population.
Advantages of marriage
Previous research has uncovered a multitude of health benefits associated with marriage, including a longer lifespan, decreased instances of strokes and heart attacks, reduced depression, and healthier eating habits.
Loneliness, on the other hand, can result in elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which elevates blood pressure.
However, as the connection between marriage and health and well-being becomes more apparent, new research is offering a more nuanced perspective on the so-called “marriage advantage,” The New York Times Magazine states in an earlier report.
It appears that simply being married is not enough to ensure good health and one needs to acknowledge the difference between “healthy” and “unhealthy” relationships when discussing the benefits of marriage.
“When we divide good marriages from bad ones, we learn that it is the relationship, not the institution, that is key,” Stephanie Coontz, marriage historian said.