When we think of the benefits of settling down with a loving partner, we mostly focus on the psychological and logistical benefits - avoiding loneliness, gaining a cheerleader, and splitting the rent. But a host of scientific studies shows that a happy marriage isn't just good for your mental and financial health; it's great for your physical health too.
The Startling Health Benefits of a Happy Marriage
All these health effects apply only to unions in which both partners describe themselves as happy and thriving. Bad marriages definitely don't have health benefits, and no one is suggesting getting married to a problematic partner (or staying in a troubled relationship) is a good idea. But if you're lucky enough to find yourself in a loving long-term relationship, the positive health effects are truly impressive:
1. A happy marriage boosts your immune system.
Yes, your spouse might annoy you by leaving their dirty laundry on the bathroom floor, but they're also protecting you from sniffles and more serious infectious disease, Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. writes on the Harvard Health blog.
2. Contented couplehood protects you from stress.
Why do happy relationships boost immune function? Possibly because the happily coupled tend to have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. High levels can cause serious damage to the body over time, including suppressing the immune system.
3. Married people have healthier hearts.
One recent British study found "those who reported that their marriages flourished over time also experienced improvements in several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including cholesterol and body mass index (BMI)," according to Yale Medicine. In short, a happy marriage helps ward off heart attacks.
4. If you do have a heart attack, you're more likely to survive it.
And if you're unlucky enough to suffer a heart attack while married, having a loving partner will help you recover. A British study of 25,000 people found that married heart-attack patients were 14 percent more likely to survive.
5. Married people are much less likely to experience mental illness.
You probably tell your significant other they drive you crazy sometimes, but in fact, studies show being partnered up significantly reduces your risk of mental illness.
6. Happy marriages help you get a good night's sleep.
The same goes for shut-eye. You might complain about your spouse's snoring or cover-stealing ways, but one recent study showed married women actually have a 10 percent better chance of getting a good night's sleep than those who are not married.
7. Spouses maintain healthier lifestyles.
Scientists have also found that the happily married tend to make more sensible health decisions, such as eating better and visiting the doctor more regularly. This may be because level-headed folks are more likely to find themselves in happy marriages, or it may be because spouses push each other to make better choices (read: your partner nagging you into not eating the whole pint of Ben & Jerry's). Whatever the reason, the correlation clearly exists.
All of these benefits add up to a pretty impressive bonus of having a happy marriage: Those who rate themselves either "very" or "pretty happy" in their relationships reduce their chances of dying early by a hefty 20 percent.
That's a pretty good reason to stop by the florist's on the way home tonight and pick up a surprise for your better half. (And if you're wondering if you should splurge for the more expensive bouquet, it might help you to know happy marriages are also linked to greater career success.)