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Tuesday, 27 October, 1998, 17:26 GMT
In sickness, but mainly in health...
Marriage
Marriage may keep you healthier in old age
Marriage can have positive health benefits for elderly couples, according to American research.

A study by a US government agency shows that marriage promotes healthy behaviour among elderly couples - particularly men.

The Agency for Health Care Policy researchers compared the behaviour of elderly widowed and married people with regard to five key health areas.

They found that married couples were more likely to eat breakfast, wear seat belts, exercise, have their blood pressure checked and not smoke than widowed people.

The found that married men were 70% more likely to engage in physical activity than their widowed counterparts.

They are also twice as likely not to smoke than widowed men.

Gender differences

The study also showed gender differences, with married men more likely to eat breakfast regularly and take regular exercise than married women.

However, women tended to wear seat belts and not smoke more than married men.

The researchers say studies have shown that all five health areas can improve overall health significantly.

They say eating breakfast regularly can improve overall diet and one previous study has shown it can lead to a longer life.

Other research has shown that widows and widowers die younger than married people.

In the US, almost half of all women and 14% of men over 65 are widowed.

Emotional support

The researchers say other studies have tended to concentrate on the fact that relationships provide people with emotional support.

Man and woman
Married couples may encourage each other to live more healthily
There have also been studies showing that marriage has a health benefit for younger couples.

The new research looks at physical health benefits and shows that the positive effect of marriage may be long-lasting.

The researchers, Dr Barbara Schone and Dr Robin Weinick, say their study will help to target health information more at single elderly people.

Active interest in health

Age Concern said the reason men benefited more from marriage may be because women were more likely to take a more active interest in their health.

"Men married to women would reap the benefits of that interest," said a spokeswoman.

"Having someone there to keep an eye on you and encourage you to go to the doctor is important. Men tend to be more reluctant to go to the doctor and put their problems to the back of their minds."

She added that previous research had shown that, in general, being in a relationship was better for a person's overall well being and improved their quality of life.

Exercise

Meanwhile, another US report says newly-weds are more likely to exercise than single people.

A 10-year study of over 500 men and women published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine shows an increase in exercise among newly-weds.

The researchers say this may be because marriage encourages people to see their life in a long-term perspective and think about their future health.

Dr Abby King from the Center for the Advancement of Health, one of the researchers, wrote: "Increasingly, health behaviour change has been conceptualised as a series of psychological processes or stages.

"Specifically, a life-span perspective encourages an increased focus on periods and transitions in life when behaviours such as physical activity may be significantly altered."

The beneficial effects, however, begin to wear off after 10 years.

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