After a three-year decline, more Americans are tying the knot, according to a new report. That's good news, because one of your best routes to a healthier heart, stronger bones, a lower risk for cancer and a longer life is a happy union.
We've got three strategies, drawn from the latest real-world research.
GET A "RELATIONSHIP WORK ETHIC"
Don't let work, family responsibilities, home maintenance and other demands on your time crowd out the good stuff that feeds your relationship - like dates, daily check-ins, little romantic moments and intimacy.
You'll end up with ... cleaner, more flexible arteries. Long-married spouses who support each other had fewer calcium deposits in arteries within the heart, a brand-new report says. These deposits can lead to a higher risk for a heart attack.
That may be why people who are happily paired up at midlife are two to three times more likely to live to enjoy their later years compared with folks who are unmarried, widowed or divorced during their 40s and 50s, says a Duke University study. Married people in their 80s, 90s and beyond have a lower risk for memory problems.
TALK ABOUT BIG STUFF
There's plenty of proof that marriage-education programs can get any union off to a great start or help improve a long-standing one by getting the two of you to talk about important stuff like finances, kids, household chores and communication styles. Or how about "movie marriage therapy"? Watching five movies and then discussing questions cut the divorce rate in half for 174 couples in one recent study. You'll find a list of movies and questions at www.courses.rochester.edu/surveys/funk.
Open communication helps reduce chronic tension and boosts self-esteem. That may lower inflammation and blood pressure.
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE OLD-FASHIONED GRIT
Spouses willing to work as a team boost their chance of enjoying a long, happy marriage. A study that tracked 172 couples for a decade found the secret of their success: They didn't keep score and compromised (within reason) without looking for a payback.
You'll end up with ... better odds against cancer. Married people who get a cancer diagnosis live longer than those who are single often because their cancers are caught in earlier, more treatable stages and because they're more likely to get the best treatment, according to a study from Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
So take time to work on your relationship with your main squeeze. You two will boost your levels of feel-good brain chemicals (especially if you hug - and more!) and take the edge off daily stresses that, over time, boost risk for both relationship and health problems.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.