Married men are healthier than men who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce or widowhood, according to a major survey of American adults. Is marriage itself responsible for better health and longer life? It’s hard to be sure, but marriage certainly seems to deserve at least part of the credit, reports the July 2010 issue ofHarvard Men’s Health Watch.

Numerous studies conducted over the past 150 years suggest that marriage is good for health. Now scientists are beginning to understand how marriage affects heart disease, cancer, and other conditions in men, saysHarvard Men’s Health Watch.

A recent report from the Framingham Offspring Study notes that married men had a 46 percent lower rate of death than unmarried men, even after taking into account major cardiovascular risk factors. In this study, the happiness of the marriage did not seem to influence the overall protective effect. In other studies, though, marital unhappiness and stress were linked with high blood pressure (hypertension), an important cardiac risk factor. Over time, marital stress is associated with thickening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. On the flip side, a supportive marriage is associated with improved survival among men who develop heart failure.

Marriage doesn’t appear to reduce the overall risk of getting cancer, but it may influence the outcome. One survey of people with cancer found that those who were unmarried were more likely to have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than those who were married. Among those who receive cancer therapy, marriage has been linked to improved survival.

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