A new study of over-50s has found that being married can reduce the risk of diabetes as husbands and wives were found to have lower blood sugar compared to their single peers.
Overall, glucose levels were 0.21% lower for those coupled up – significantly better than the results of those who were single, whether through choice, bereavement or divorce.
More than 4.9 million people in the UK have diabetes, with this figure set to rise to 5.5 million by 2030, according to Diabetes UK. Diabetes can lead to eye problems, increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke, or even nerve damage.
Scientists from the University of Luxembourg found that the phenomenon of married people being less likely to get diabetes was present regardless of whether the relationship was harmonious or acrimonious, and that simply living with someone was enough to give a boost to your health.
“We found marital status, unlike marital support or strain, seemed to influence average blood sugar levels in this population at risk for type 2 diabetes,” study author Dr Katherine Ford said.
So pronounced were the health advantages of a loving partnership, she even went on to add: “Identifying and addressing barriers that impede the formation of romantic partnerships for older adults that wish to pursue these types of relationships may have subsequent benefits.”
The study was published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care and looked at 3,335 older people from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). They were tracked for a decade and provided regular blood samples. Researchers have said the results could help GPs screen vulnerable patients.
“Ageism, stereotypes of 'asexual' older adults, the deterioration of physical and mental health and a lack of social opportunities are all cited barriers to dating and social connectedness,” Ford added.
About three-quarters of the participants were married or co-habiting. Analysis of the data over time also showed people who experienced divorce were more likely to develop pre-diabetes – high blood sugar that can lead to full blown diabetes.
“Overall, our results suggested cohabitating relationships were inversely related to blood sugar levels regardless of dimensions of spousal support or strain,” Ford said.
"Likewise, these relationships appeared to have a protective effect above the pre-diabetes threshold."
The benefits of marriage on physical health have been proven in several studies over the years.
One study from 2003, that tracked 493 middle-aged women for 13 years, found that those in happy marriages were less likely to develop risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease than other women.
A separate study from 2017 found that married people have lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that causes stress, compared to their single counterparts.
A third and large-scale study from 2016 found that being married could improve your risk of surviving a heart attack as it can reduce the length of a hospital stay. The study of 25,000 patients across a 13-year period by the University of East Anglia found that married people were also likely to spend less days in hospital than single people.
"A good marriage or long stable relationship can be very beneficial to both parties," says Karen Mooney, founder of matchmaking agency, Sarah Eden Introductions. "They have someone to share the ups and downs of life with, a trusted confidant they can speak with about any worries and concerns they may have and someone they can laugh with. Laughter is so important in a relationship. All of this leads to a happier, hopefully healthy lifestyle."
Another benefit is that sometimes other people may notice changes in our own health, before we do.
"If you are in a happy relationship, you have someone else looking out for your health," Mooney adds. "They may notice changes in your health that you wouldn’t, and this in itself can lead to a longer life."
Additional reporting by SWNS.
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