Does Romance Boost Your Longevity?

If you want to live a long, happy life, are you better off as part of a couple, or going it on your own? Well, research indicates — as usual — that data really can't dictate your love life. While there have been studies such as this 2006 one from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (via PubMed) that correlate marriage to longer life expectancy, other experts, such as psychology professor Dr. Howard S. Friedman, author of The Longevity Project, says that marriage really only increases longevity in men, and only for men who are actually happily married rather than just hanging in there (via CBS News). When it comes to women, his research found that single women and those who walked out on unhappy marriages were the longest-lived

The Harvard Study of Adult Development (via Harvard Health Publishing) is unique in that it followed a group of over 700 men for over 80 years, from the time they were teens to — in the case of the 60 surviving group members — well up into their 90s. While the study found that yes, relationships are important in making sure we stay healthy and active into our later years, these relationships do not necessarily need to be romantic ones.

How social interaction helps us stay healthy

Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist with Massachusetts General Hospital, is the current director of the Harvard study, and he says that yes, loneliness can be toxic: "People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely." Being single, however, does not necessarily equate to lonely, as Waldinger speaks of being socially connected to family, friends, and/or community as a way to live a longer, healthier, and happier life rather than equating longevity with romantic relationships alone.

In fact, being in a less-than-satisfactory relationship can actually be detrimental to your well-being. Waldinger warns, "Living in conflict, such as in a high-conflict marriage, is bad for your health." While he says that people can work to improve their existing relationships in order to be happier, everyone knows it takes two to tango, and staying in a partnership that is more stressful than supportive isn't going to be any better for you than saying sayonara and striking out in a new direction. 

What you do need to do, however, is to put in some effort to stay connected to other people, since it's never too late to make new friends or reconnect with old ones. As Dr. Waldinger advises, "Staying connected and involved is actually a form of taking care of yourself, just like exercise or eating right," but his "important prescription for health" is one you can follow even if you're inclined to stay single.