Entering midlife without a spouse could be hazardous for your health, according to a new report from scientists at Duke University Medical Center in Durham.
The study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, suggests that being single in your 40s can double your risk of premature death.
According to the study’s investigators, Americans who reach the age of 40 have an average life expectancy of 83 years. But marital status seems to play a role in who ends up living longer – and those in intact relationships appear to have the best odds.
The scientists analyzed data from the UNC Alumni Heart Study, which included more than 4,800 men and women, all of whom were born in the 1940s. The UNC study looked at how personality traits evident in the college years, such as optimism, pessimism, depression, sociability and hostility, could affect the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease.
Other factors were also considered, including education, professional attainment, history of cigarette and alcohol use and exercise habits.
The conclusions: Single people are twice as likely to die in midlife compared with married men and women. Furthermore, those who have been through a divorce and remain single also had an increased risk for death.
The study authors suggest a possible explanation for the phenomenon could be that “chronic loneliness” can be detrimental to physical as well as mental health, especially as people get older. That said, the scientists noted, it is a mistake to expect that your partner makes you healthy, or keeps you healthier.
Furthermore, a marriage and family therapist from the University of Nevada told U.S. News & World Report that the findings highlight why social support is such an important part of maintaining overall health, particularly for couples going through relationship crises.
If you are going through a divorce or separation, your physical health is just as important as your emotional wellbeing. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself during this difficult time and seek medical and psychological help if you feel like the stress is taking a toll.