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MARRIAGE DONE RIGHT

Marriage advice: Being married helps aging couples stay healthier

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 12:01 am

Everyone wants to live a long life, but few people want to grow old.

For those who would rather have both than neither, and would like to enjoy good health along the way, try getting married and keeping your marriage healthy.

Both married men and married women live longer than their unmarried friends. Researcher Linda Waite explains that healthy people and those with major health issues who marry lived longer than their unmarried friends, who were equally healthy or had the same health problems.

Healthy marriages keep people healthy in part because husbands and wives tend to monitor each other's health. Waite explains that men, in particular, benefit from “what social scientists call social support and husbands call nagging” about such matters as frequent medical checkups and healthy diets.

Wives benefit because husbands tend to be protective. Waite reports that “even at quite old ages, married women were much less likely than unmarried women to become disabled.” Husbands also help protect their wives “from many of the worst trials of old age, including the loss of independence and physical functioning.”

Researcher Christiane Hoppmann studied the emotional and physical well-being of more than 1,700 older couples in long-term marriages for 15 years and agrees that a long-term marriage “really ties your lives together.” These strong ties provide emotional and physical support that greatly increases life expectancy.

But Hoppmann's findings also warn that couples can unwittingly pull each other down. She found that, when one spouse became physically limited, not only did that person begin to show symptoms of depression, but their spouse also began showing similar signs. Indeed, sometimes the otherwise healthy spouse suffered an even greater negative impact.

As Hoppmann explained, “These findings show just how interdependent, emotionally and physically, long-term couples can become.”

There are several ways couples can use their emotional and physical interdependence to maximize the joy of long lives.

Keep physically active. Physical limitations can lead to symptoms of depression, which can lead to even greater physical inaction. As Hoppmann notes, “when older adults stop being active — going for walks, socializing, shopping — they risk losing that functional ability. It's that old saying, 'Use it or lose it.'”

You help your marriage by encouraging each other to take walks and be as physically active as possible. Local shopping malls, in bad weather, community walking trails and exercise paths, when it's nice out, provide safe, flat walking routes.

Games, such as shuffleboard and bocce ball, help keep you moving and add some competitive excitement. Or learn Tai Chi Chaun, a slow-motion exercise the Chinese have used for centuries, to reduce depression, improve mood states and to maintain agility and balance.

Keep mentally active. Learn something new. Your local library, historical society, community college or a nearby university may offer free classes or may suggest areas of study. Games such as Scrabble, Upwards, Sudoku, checkers and chess can provide challenge and a sense of competition.

Do things together that add purpose to your lives. When we lose our sense of purpose, we often lose our will to live. Purpose gives meaning and motivation to our lives.

Helping others is a proven way to bring meaning to your life. If you don't have grandchildren around to spoil, contact a local elementary school and volunteer to help as a mentor or tutor.

2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.