There are countless plank jokes rooted in unhappy marriages, but it turns out that beneath all the laughter, lies an unfortunate truth that should be taken more seriously. A new study from Tel Aviv University reveals that dissatisfaction with marriage is a significant predictor of stroke and premature mortality in men, no less than known risk factors such as smoking and lack of exercise. The study was based on extensive health data from a long-term study, which followed deaths among about 10,000 Israeli men for over 30 years.
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The study was led by researchers from the School of Public Health at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine of Tel Aviv University: Prof. Uri Goldburt of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, who initiated and directed the study, Dr. Shachar Lev-Ari, Head of the Department of Health Promotion, and Dr. Yiftach Geffner of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine The article was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine.
As part of the study, the researchers performed statistical analyzes on a database of long-term research, which began in the 1960s and followed for 32 years the health and behavior patterns of about 10,000 men, all Israeli civil servants – with an emphasis on stroke deaths. And mortality for any reason. At the beginning of the study the study participants were on average in their 40s and over the years 64 percent of them died of various diseases. “We sought to analyze the data accumulated over the years according to various parameters, in order to identify behavioral and psychosocial risk factors that may predict stroke death and / or early death for any reason,” explains Dr. Lev-Ari.
The researchers explain that at the beginning of the 30-year study, participants were asked, among other things, to rate their marital satisfaction, on a scale of 1 (very satisfied) to 4 (not satisfied at all).
“Quality of marriage and family life has health implications for life expectancy”
To the surprise of the researchers, the analysis of the data revealed that this level is a predictor of life expectancy, no less than smoking or lack of physical activity. For example, the number of stroke deaths was 69 percent higher among those who gave their marriage a score of 4 (not satisfied at all) compared to those who gave a score of 1 and who were very satisfied with their marriage (40.6 deaths who were not happy with marriage compared to 24.0 who were very happy with marriage).
When it comes to death for any reason, the gap was 19 percent in favor of happily married people – the data show that while among the unhappy married 295.3 died for various reasons, among the very happy married only 248.5 people died. The researchers note that the gaps were even larger among men who were relatively young (under 50) at the beginning of the study.
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In addition, the researchers performed a statistical analysis of all known risk factors for cardiovascular mortality, such as diabetes, hypertension, BMI, and socioeconomic status. Here, too, the figure is very surprising – it turns out that the relative risk of mortality for any reason among those who were dissatisfied with their marriage compared to those who were satisfied was 1.21 times higher than those dissatisfied with marriage), these rates are similar to data recognized in the professional literature among smokers or non-smokers.
“Our research shows that the quality of marriage and family life has health implications for life expectancy,” explains Dr. Lev-Ari. “Men who reported a sense of failure in their marriage died at a younger age than those who had a good marriage. In other words, the level of marital satisfaction was found to be a predictor of life expectancy, at rates similar to smoking (smokers versus non-smokers) and physical activity (active versus inactive). It is also important to note that a higher risk is observed mainly among relatively young men, under the age of 50, when in older age the gap is smaller, perhaps against the background of the couple’s adaptation processes to the relationship over time. The findings are consistent with other studies that have shown benefit in education programs for a proper relationship and a healthy family life, as part of the national strategy for promoting health in the general population, “concludes Dr. Lev-Ari.