FRIDAY, Feb. 15, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Married people rate themselves as mentally and physically healthier than people who are single, according to a new study.
And married adults are less likely to develop chronic health conditions than those who are widowed or divorced, the researchers say.
"We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age," Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the department of human development and family studies at the University of Missouri, said in a university news release.
Treating your spouse well and creating happiness in your marriage will make you a healthier couple, she suggested.
"Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people's spirits and well-being and lower their stress," Proulx said.
The researchers examined information on more than 700 continuously married adults who took part in a 20-year panel study funded by the Office of Research and Statistics of the U.S. Social Security Administration, and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
Happily married participants reported being in better health as they aged, the study found. Older people who face declining health could benefit from strengthening their marriage, the researchers said, and doctors should take patients' marital status into account.
"Physicians should recognize that the strength of patients' marriages might affect their health," Proulx suggested. "I suspect we'd have higher rates of adherence to treatment plans for chronic illnesses if medical professionals placed more of an emphasis on incorporating families and spouses in patients' care. If spouses understand their partners' disease and how to treat it at home, and the couple has a strong marriage, both people's health could improve."
The results may not apply equally to all adults. Most of the study's participants were white, earned more than $55,000 in 2000 and had more than a high school education, the researchers noted. As a result, participants may be less vulnerable to marital and health problems than people of different ethnicities or those with less education and lower incomes.
The study is scheduled to appear in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.
The American Psychological Association offers tips for a happy marriage.