MONDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- New research finds that
married people are more than twice as likely as single people to be
alive 15 years after coronary bypass surgery, although the findings
can't prove that having a spouse has a protective effect.
In fact, the limitations of ethical research may make it
impossible to ever prove that marriage is good for your health.
Still, the study provides more evidence that having a long-term
mate is good for you, said study co-author Harry T. Reis, a
professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
In recent years, a number of studies have hinted at several
apparent health benefits of marriage: it may slightly boost the
odds of survival from colon cancer, for one thing, and it might
help reduce pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
The problem is that it's hard to know for sure if marriage
directly produces health benefits. It's possible, for example, that
people who are naturally healthier are more likely to get married
in the first place, maybe because they're happier than sicker
In the new study, researchers tracked what happened to 225
people who underwent coronary bypass surgery from 1987 to 1990.
Overall, 124 patients -- 55 percent -- survived for at least the
next 15 years: 61 percent of the married patients and 30 percent of
Post-bypass survival odds fell for both unmarried women (only 26
percent of them were still alive at the end of the period) and
unmarried men (only 36 percent were still alive). But a whopping 83
percent of happily married women
and men were still around, the study found.
However, there was a catch: unhappy marriages -- defined as
those in which patients said they weren't very satisfied -- spelled
trouble for women. Only about 29 percent of those in unhappy
marriages survived, while 60 percent of the men in unhappy
There are caveats to the research: the big differences between
married women and unmarried women shrunk significantly when the
researchers adjusted their statistics so they wouldn't be thrown
off by the various ages of the women. And fewer women were in the
sample of patients, possibly affecting the results for them.
Why might marriage be good for a patient's recovery? "Marriage
gives you purpose in life, and feeling like you have a reason to
live is an important part of doing the things you need to do to
stay alive," Reis said. "Married people also help each other,
remind each other it's time to take their pills. And they probably
On the reverse side of things, he said, "when people are not
married and living alone, that's when they really let themselves
go, especially when they're in their 60s or 70s and living
However, an actual marriage license isn't absolutely necessary
to stay healthy, Reis stressed. There's "every reason to believe"
that long-term committed relationships have the same effect, he
Why is this study important? "This kind of research may
ultimately shed light on some mechanisms behind the association
between high-quality marriages and health. This can, in turn,
inform health initiatives and policy," said Jennifer Barsky Reese,
a researcher into the marriage-health connection and a postdoctoral
fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's department
of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in Baltimore.
The study is published online Aug. 22 in the journal
There's more on maintaining a healthy marriage at the
University of Maryland.
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