WEDDINGS
02/21/2013 03:36 pm ET

Health Benefits Of Marriage: 6 Ways To Take Advantage

By Mary Jo Rapini for YourTango.com

February is heart awareness month, so this study in the European Society of Cardiology journal caught my eye. It says that being unmarried increases the risk of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks in both men and women regardless of age.

Researchers also note that being married, especially among middle-aged couples, is associated with better prognosis of acute cardiac events before hospitalization and after reaching the hospital alive. Even when the couple is unmarried but cohabitating, there is a better prognosis after coronary events before and after hospitalization. The 28-day mortality rates after heart attacks showed as much as 168 percent higher in unmarried men and 175 percent higher in unmarried women.

This study is significant for many reasons, including the fact that past research has not included data for women. Several studies have shown that marriage or living with someone is healthier for men, but this study suggests the same effects are true for women as well.

The study cites a few reasons why couples enjoy a better prognosis than single people. It posits that people with poor health are more prone to remaining unmarried or getting divorced. That is to say, marriage might not be the cause of heart health just because the two are correlated. Another possibility is that married people enjoy higher levels of social support than unmarried people, causing them to make healthier choices overall.

The bottom line is this: Having someone who loves you and you love is much deeper than a feeling. Feelings of love change the chemistry of our brains and our bodies at a cellular level. Just as marriage can make your heart healthy, it can also make you feel more stressed if you and your spouse don't get along.

It takes more than just saying "I do" to reap the health benefits of marriage. You need to work at keeping your marriage strong. Below are ideas to help you keep your marriage -- and your heart -- healthy:

1. Build trust. Being together and being friends is how all good relationships begin and become stronger. If you don't feel like your partner has your best interests at heart, you won't feel committed for life.

2. Behave in a way you would be proud of if your spouse was around ... all the time. You may feel great flirting and getting attention from strangers, but if your spouse were there, would he be proud of the way you were acting? Would he respect this part of you? Don't act one way to your partner and another in your private life.

3. Be kind. It's so easy to act grumpy or irritable. It is even easier when you are with someone for a long time. That same person who vowed his life to you at the altar still gets a sparkle when you are kind to him.

4. Think outside the box. Quit defaulting to your parents' relationship patterns. You are creating a marriage and writing your own script. It can be wild, crazy and fun! It doesn't have to be what your mom or dad thought was best.

5. Do one thing each day that you wish your partner would do for you. For example, women come into my office (with their husbands) and tell their husbands (and me) that they never get flowers. When is the last time you sent your husband flowers? Guys don't like flowers? You better ask them. Most men love getting a card or flowers sent to them from time to time.

6. Try new things. Think you are too old, out of shape or busy to try that bicycle tour or take that cooking class with your spouse? If you think you are, you are. The circumstances that prevent us from doing things together will never end. You have to value "us" enough to keep your relationship novel. After all, life is about evolving and trying new things.

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