Marriage is good for you – or at least for your blood-sugar levels, according to research which indicates that cohabitation reduces the chances of developing diabetes.
The research, which analysed the blood-sugar levels and relationship status of thousands of people aged over 50, concluded that “marital relationships, regardless of the quality of the relationship, are associated with lower HbA1c [blood sugar] values for male and female adults aged over 50 years”.
Mary Johnston, an Irish relationship counsellor, said the findings should encourage people who lose a partner, through separation or bereavement, to think again about developing relationships later in life.
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The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Luxembourg and the University of Ottawa. It was based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and published in the BMJ’s Open Diabetes Research and Care.
It used a sample consisting of people without pre-existing diabetes between 50 and 89 . As well as having their health data analysed, respondents were asked if they had a husband, wife or partner with whom they live, and the social strain and social support within the relationship. At the time, some 76 per cent of the sample were married or cohabitating.
“We found that marital status, unlike marital support or strain, seemed to influence average glycemic levels in our sample of English adults aged 50 years and older without pre-existing, self-reported diabetes,” it said.
“Overall, our results suggested that marital/cohabitating relationships were inversely related to HbA1c levels regardless of dimensions of spousal support or strain. Likewise, these relationships appeared to have a protective effect against HbA1c levels above the pre-diabetes threshold.
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“Increased support for older adults who are experiencing the loss of a marital/cohabitating relationship through divorce or bereavement, as well as the dismantling of negative stereotypes around romantic relationships in later life, may be starting points for addressing health risks, more specifically deteriorating glycemic regulation, associated with marital transitions in older adults.”
Citing previous research elsewhere, those behind the study said “marital relationships have been extensively associated with positive health effects”.
Ms Johnston, a specialist in counselling with Accord, said: “No matter what age we are, we are the same – we benefit from healthy relationships, close relationships, being in the bosom of a family or with husband or wife.”
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She questioned whether older people who experience either relationship breakdown or bereavement are still open to the possibility of a new relationship, possibly due to their perception as to how it would be viewed by others.