It’s only been in the last few decades that researchers have taken a hard look at the health impact of marriage.

Recent studies have revealed how marriage affects cardiac health, a discovery you can learn more about in the Altrua HealthShare ‘Articles’ section. And there is more and more evidence rolling in about the variety of ways a happy marriage can benefit your overall health. According to Harvard Medical School, marriage has a direct correlation to longer life, fewer strokes and heart attacks, a reduced risk of becoming depressed, less likelihood to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis and more likely to survive cancer for a longer period of time, and a higher survival rate from a major operation.1

And that’s not all. 

Researchers want to know the why behind these health benefits, and their theories are fascinating.

There is growing evidence that a happy marriage leads to a stronger immune system and improved health habits (and a reduction of risky behavior) when someone marries. Mental health also appears to be healthier and more stable in marriage. Interestingly, men seem to have an even greater benefit from marriage in these areas than women, though improvements in these areas are seen in both men and women.2

However, it’s important to note that simply being married doesn’t lead to better health. The health of the marriage seems to be directly correlated to the health improvements or increased risks. As Lisa Roepe writes, “Couples in unhappy marriages experience higher blood pressure than those in supportive marriages, according to a study by Brigham Young University. Over time, marital conflict and stress can lead to a greater risk for heart disease including heart attacks, heart failure, and hardening of the arteries.”3 An unhappy marriage is also associated with a suppressed immune system, which can lead to greater health risks. Increased inflammation and cortisol levels (the stress hormone) found in couples with struggling marriages also contribute to overall difficulties in physical health.4 The risk for depression also rises with unhappy marriages.

The takeaways from these pieces of research paint an important picture of the relationship of marriage and health: an emotionally healthy marriage can lead to significant health advantages, while an emotionally distressed marriage carries additional physical health risks not found in the general population. It puts the overall health of a marriage centerstage when it comes to evaluating marital outcomes. Even if you’re up-to-date on your medical check-ups, your marriage might just need an emotional check-up as well, as part of your overall health journey. Just as you invest time in workouts and healthy eating for your health, those same kinds of daily, intentional investments are needed in your marriage as well, to realize the long-term benefits of a happy marriage. Counseling, praying together, a shared experience, communication, these are all elements that can keep a marriage on track. So, yes, take those vitamins and drink enough water, but don’t forget to keep your marriage nurtured and hydrated. It could make all the difference for your body.

Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.