Married or single: which is healthier?
Every year on Valentine’s Day, our thought turn to relationships and so the long-time debate lives on—is it better to be married or single? Some say married life can be more meaningful, but others say singletons have all the fun. While the answer undoubtedly hinges on the individual, science has, time and again, weighed in through copious research to measure whether one is better than the other, at least for your health. When it comes right down to long-term wellbeing, which of the two paths fair better?
For your brain
Let’s start from the top: our state of mind. Sure, sanity does not depend on whether or not we’re attached to someone in a binding contract. Nonetheless, according to a theory in psychology (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), our basic needs demand a sense of belongingness, love, and intimacy. In short, relationships do matter to our mental wellbeing. So does this mean being married wins over single life?
Robin Simon, a professor of sociology at Wake Forest University writes, “Married people report significantly fewer symptoms of depression and are significantly less likely to abuse substances than their non-married counterparts… marriage provides social support — including emotional, financial, and instrumental support. Also, married people have greater psychosocial (or coping) resources than the non-married—higher self-esteem and greater mastery.”
However, there are other ways to experience a sense of belongingness. It could be from family, friends, and meaningful experiences such as travel and community work. Take note: being single does not necessarily equate to loneliness and mental health is improved with relationships, whatever that means for you.
For your heart
Heart check – the physical one, the one that beats and pumps your blood to keep you alive. As it seems, being single or married has implications that go beyond our figurative heart. One study from the NYU Langone Medical Center revealed that married men and women had a five per cent lower risk of any cardiovascular risk. Independent from the study, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York says, “As married people are more likely to help each other stay healthy, by making sure their spouse eats well, exercises, takes medications and helps in attending doctors’ appointments, married people tend to have less risk for heart disease.”
But then again, what if it’s an unhappy marriage? Further studies declared that a distressed marriage exposes an individual to stress, leading to depression and, in turn, affecting heart health either directly or indirectly through unhealthy behaviours like smoking or drinking.
For your body
‘Letting yourself go’ after tying the knot or even a long-term relationship has proven to be extremely influential on your waistline. Weight gains following marital transitions are a norm according to one Ohio state research. “For someone in their mid-20s, there is not much of a difference in the probability of gaining weight between someone who just got married and someone who never married. But later in life, there is much more of a difference,” said the lead author of this research.
Is it necessarily a bad thing? Maybe not. For married couples, larger waistlines could actually reflect happiness. Another study supports this claim explaining that on average, spouses who are happier gained more weight over time.
But then again, it’s not all black and white. Singles may also be joining the bandwagon with their likelihood to practice bad food intake leading to unhealthy dietary patterns. When living alone it’s easier to unashamedly enjoy lots of unhealthy take-away in the comfort of your own home in the age of digital delivery. So this one is a tie, both can be a risk factor for obesity but just like everything else, can bring you good or bad.
For your sleep
If you’re sharing a bed with your significant other, you might find yourself waking up tired because of all the snoring, the blanket tug of war, mismatched body clocks, but you learn to roll with the punches because love and hey, you’re waking up next to the reason why you smile! True, couple sleep is not all a bed of roses but it’s not all snores and sheet-stealing either. Married life and having kids, in the long run, can be a challenge to having a good night sleep, but it can be easily addressed, from practical sleep adjustments to getting professional help.
Embracing singlehood, one usually doesn’t have to compromise on sleep quality. A survey by The Better Sleep Council, found that a quarter of the coupled people got a better night’s sleep when they slept alone. While singletons can fair better in terms of sleep, the CDC reports that one-third of adults don’t get enough sleep anyway, regardless of their relationship status so this is an area of health you can focus on to improve your health, regardless of your relationship status.
For your longevity
Although numerous studies have shown a strong link between married life and longevity, we can’t really say that having a marriage contract is a sure-fire way to increase your lifespan. While having someone to take care of you or do things like getting check-ups with and reminding you to take medication is a plus side of marriage, being single does not limit you from living a healthier and longer life. Research show that people who are single are also living longer than ever before. Maybe some forty to fifty years ago, men and women had the advantage because they have their spouse taking care of them, but now, it’s no longer the case. With full access to health care resources and support, the differences in mortality rates have radically decreased.
The verdict according to science: ‘Married’ wins
Overall, statistics show that both singletons and married couples have health related advantages, but the main fact remains to be as happy in your current situation as you can, plus remembering that you can take responsibility for your own health and don’t need a significant other to live your best life!
Need a solo escape or an active adventure to reconnect with your partner? Call me on 1300 551 353 or visit www.healthandfitnesstravel.com.au