It's official: Marriage is good for your health

Marriage brings better mental and physical health and help you live longer, reducing the chance of premature death by up to 15%, according to a major new study of seven European countries.

What's more, the longer you stay married, the better you should feel - as long as the relationship is loving and supportive. Food for thought for anyone putting off tying the knot.

And food is indeed a factor, with happily married couples tending to eat better than their single or cohabiting peers.

According to the findings of the research, which were reviewed in the British Medical Journal, they are also likely to have more friends and take better care of themselves and each other. John Gallacher, a Cardiff University academic who reviewed the European studies, said: "Marriage and other forms of partnership can be placed along a sliding scale of commitment, with greater commitment conferring greater benefit.

"That marriage generally indicates a deeper commitment might explain why marriage is associated with better mental health outcomes than cohabiting. Cohabiting relationships tend to be less enduring. The most widely accepted explanation is that being in a committed relationship means better social support is available. Commitment seems to provide networks of supportive and helpful relationships, beginning with the spouse or partner, leading to more healthy lifestyles and better emotional and physical health."

This is why married individuals are between 10% and 15% less likely to die prematurely than those who never tie the knot.

Other findings include that the optimal time for men to marry seems to be after the age of 25, whereas for women it is between 19 and 25 years. Gallacher said: "In terms of physical health, men benefit more from being in a relationship than women, but in terms of mental health women benefit more than men. The physical health premium for men is likely to be caused by their partner's positive influence on lifestyle. The mental health bonus for women may be due to a greater emphasis on the importance of the relationship."

However, difficult and strained relationships are bad for your mental health, and being single is therefore better than being in a strained relationship.

"The take home message is simple," Gallacher added. "Exclusive and supportive relationships confer substantial mental and physical health benefits that grow over time."

This conclusion is supported by a World Health Organisation study that last year revealed marriage could reduce the risk of anxiety and depression and that people who tied the knot were much less likely to suffer the blues than those who stayed single.

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