San Diego State University psychologist Linda C. Gallo, PhD, tracked the health and happiness of 493 women for 13 years. Using blood tests, Gallo found that women with the luck, skill, or emotional fortitude to have created highly satisfying marriages were simply in better health¹.
We’ve all heard the scientific evidence, confirmation of our assumptions, and out and out speculation about a connection between a happy marriage and good health.
Mortality rates, for example, are greatly affected by marital status. The mortality rate among single men under 34 is about 2½ times higher than that for young married men. Widowed and divorced men over 80 have a mortality rate one third higher than married men. Single, widowed and divorced older women all have higher mortality rates than their married peers.
One of the biggest factors in our food obsessed, overly sedentary culture is, of course obesity. The prevalence of obesity in America doubled from 15 percent in 1980 to 27 percent in 1999. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of children and two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight, no thanks to poor diet and lack of exercise. Nearly 2 in 3 Americans is overweight, and more than 50% of those are considered obese. This doesn’t just have an impact on the health care budget, even though obesity costs us nearly $117 Billion dollars per annum. It also costs us in one of the prevalent outcomes of overweight: divorce. Ask any married couple this question, “would you marry your spouse again if you knew they’d be overweight?”. If they’re honest they’ll say no. Too much body mass causes all manner of health and other problems, not to mention it’s just unattractive.
No news there. But let’s turn that around for once; is the opposite equally true? Do people who take care of themselves find that their marriages are happier as a result? And is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? Does taking care of ourselves lead to better health, which leads to a happier, more satisfied mate? It would seem so intuitively. It could be that we have it exactly backward; it could be that people who find themselves in a satisfying marriage automatically watch their weight, don’t smoke, drink in moderation, buckle up and in general take fewer chances with their physical well being. This could be an unconscious reaction to knowing someone loves us enough to expect nothing less.
Expectations in marriage mean a lot. In my own relationship, for example, it would be an impossibility that one of us would take up smoking. My mate would assume I’d gone ’round the bend; seeing her with a cigarette, I would assume the same. Neither of us drinks very much. We’d no more drive without buckling up than walk into traffic blindfolded. We exercise daily, either walking, biking in the neighborhood, or at a nearby public park. We have an almost daily drill where we compete with each other to do as many sit-ups as we can (she always wins). Our diet is healthier, and, counterintuitively, more satisfying than ever.
Recently, we acquired a copy of a cookbook/earth greening manifesto titled Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating², which contains all manner of recipes, food and agricultural information, planetary impact data and health related observations about what we buy at the grocery, cook in our kitchens, and put in our mouths. Food Matters is now our only cookbook. Hint: we keep beans in the pantry at all times, and, yes, Beano®, too. We just feel it’s important to stay slim, healthy, attractive and attentive for each other.
The current health care controversy may revolve around a hidden factor here, that those who initially care enough about their own health gravitate to others like themselves, and overall, impact the health care system less than those who abuse their bodies. Anecdotally, those people are likely involved in unsatisfying marital relationships.
Speaking of expectations, marital bliss doesn’t necessarily mean sexual satisfaction, but the two are pretty closely aligned. Here are the stats: According to the American Urological Association, overweight men are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction than slimmer correspondents³. Considering how most men feel about sex and their partners, this is likely a reason to stay slim, or slim down after the middle age spread has begun. Research suggests that Americans do in fact gain about ten pounds per decade on average, and we’re living longer, so do the math. Most divorces in America, too, have as a factor the loss of sexual attraction in men and women. The bottom line is that to enjoy sex longer, and to keep our mates happy regardless, we need to take better care of ourselves. Here are a few tips on how to do that.
Regular exercise: How many times have we heard that? Set a timer. Every thirty minutes leave the computer, get on the floor, and do as many sit-ups as you can without strain. In no time you’ll be proud to say you can do 100 sit ups per day, and your tummy will thank you. Your mate will, too. Take a walk after work. Don’t eat dinner till you’ve exercised at least fifteen minutes. Hold hands while walking; it will increase the enjoyment, and it embarrasses your kids, a good thing.
Eat less, and eat better. The story about beans? It’s true; they’re the best thing we can eat, full of nutrients, high in protein, low fat, low carb, satisfying, and good if fixed imaginatively, which isn’t hard. (See notation #2). Also, why do we keep eating till every scrap and morsel is gone? Is that mom’s admonition to clean our plates? The cure for this is ridiculously simple: when you’re no longer hungry, stop. The grocery bill will decline, too.
Stop with the snacking & grazing. Research suggests that several smaller meals throughout the day is better for us than the standard three squares. A lot of our food habits, indeed a lot of our weight gain problem is pure habit: We’re surrounded by food; we eat by time instead of hunger; we finish everything rather than ‘waste’ it, which is an interesting choice of words when you think about it. By eating after we’re no longer hungry we’re effectively ‘wasting’ food.
Don’t nag your mate about their weight. Tough not to, but the habit of mentioning weight gain and unhealthy eating habits creates a spiral toward even more of the same. If weight gain is becoming an issue, look at other factors in the relationship first. Praise is always a slimming agent.
Finally, consider that your mate really does love you enough to want you to stick around a long time. Sure, you’re their beneficiary, but that doesn’t mean they want to cash in on you right away. Attributed to various sources, the following quote is appropriate. “The idea is to die young as late as possible.” For good marital satisfaction, this means taking care of our health, and being considerate enough of our mates to do that for a lifetime.
¹©2009 Rodale press. Writer Deb Dellapena.
²©2009 Mark Bittman.
³© 2003-2009 Bio-Medicine.