How true is it that married individuals live longer and healthier lives compared to those who are single or divorced?

A new study has found that married ones maintained lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than people who never are married or are divorced. Marriage, as the findings suggested, may improve health and well-being by serving as a defense against psychological stress and therefore a range of diseases.

"It’s is exciting to discover a physiological pathway that may explain how relationships influence health and disease," said study author and Dietrich University Ph.D. student Brian Chin in a statement.

Lower Stress Levels

The team used saliva samples from 572 healthy adults ages 21 to 55, with multiple samples taken for three non-consecutive days and tested for cortisol levels.

Results demonstrated there were lower cortisol levels in married subjects than in unmarried ones. In a comparison of every participant’s daily cortisol rhythm, the married ones displayed a faster decline, a pattern that has been linked to less heart disease and better lifespan among cancer patients.

Cortisol levels usually peak when someone wakes up, and then declines during the course of the day.

Co-author Sheldon Cohen said these findings could lend insight into how intimate human relationships can work to influence health outcomes.

The findings were discussed in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Complicated Matter

The results, however, should be taken with a grain of salt, the Huffington Post reported.

It merely shows correlation, not causality, and it is also possible for healthier people to be more likely to tie the knot in the first place. The new research, too, did not account for the differences between married couples and long-term couples unmarried who live together.

But getting and staying married has been tied to better chances of cancer survival. In research that probed 60,000 subjects diagnosed with different blood cancers, it appeared that those who said "I do" are 20 percent likelier to survive the disease than single ones. Details revealed, however, that being single was often harmful only to men, with women still generally doing fine.

The reason for better chances of surviving the Big C? Support from one's spouse from intake of medications to attending chemotherapy sessions. It does not take a whole new research endeavor, after all, to figure out how being loved and cared for fuel the will and effort to live.

There are contrasting findings out there as well. In a 2010 study, for instance, marital stress emerged as a contributor to high blood pressure and poor immunity. The researchers suggested that marital woes might even be worse for one’s well-being than work-related stress.

Does It Boil Down To One’s Partner?

Another study vouched for the saying “A happy wife is a happy life.” Last year, researchers from the American Psychological Association assessed nearly 2,000 heterosexual couples, finding that those who had happy spouses were more likely to report better health. The observation was made in middle-aged and elderly couples.

According to the study’s principal investigator Dr. William Chopik, their findings broadened assumptions on the association between health and happiness, clueing in on a unique social link.

"Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself,” Chopik said.

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