In Sickness & In Health: How Your Spouse’s Health Affects Your Own

Posted by Meghan Orner on October 16, 2015

In Sickness & In Health: How Your Spouse’s Health Affects Your Own

“For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health. To love and to cherish. From this day forward until death do us part.”

Most of you probably recognize the lines above as the traditional wedding vows that have been spoken by countless couples. These signify a big commitment to all those who say these words – particularly the “in sickness and in health” vow as a new study conducted by the University of Arizona reveals how your spouse’s health affects your own.

Impacting Spouses

Researchers analyzed data from a sample of 8,187 married couples to discover if and how your spouse’s health affects your own. These couples were all participants in the Survey of Heath, Aging, and Retirement in Europe, or the SHARE study, which lasted for six years, and the average age of the couples was early 60s.

According to their research, the two biggest factors that impact an older adult’s quality of life are their spouse’s cognitive functioning and their spouse’s health. Regardless of gender, these two factors affect each partner throughout the entire relationship, especially as the couple ages. Based on this information, psychologist and co-author of the study David Sbarra said, “When we think about quality of life for older adults, and improving quality of life, it seems like targeting the individual is only part of the story.”

So what does this mean for you and your spouse’s health? Although many things can cause you and your spouse’s health and cognitive function to decline, here are some things you can do to slow down this process and promote healthy aging:

  • Exercise your body AND your mind. Although we commonly associate exercise with physical fitness, it is just as important to exercise your mind. Doing simple brain-stimulating activities, such as reading and crossword puzzles, go a long way in keeping your brain sharp as you age. Don’t get us wrong though – physical fitness plays a key role in healthy aging, too. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise four days a week. The best part is that you already have a great workout partner: your spouse! Some of the best exercises for seniors are walking, yoga, swimming, tai chi and cycling. Even doing household chores can help keep you healthy!
  • Eat healthy. Ever hear the phrase “you are what you eat?” Getting the recommended amount of nutritious foods daily can go a long way in improving your quality of life. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but the components of a balanced diet are grains, fruits, vegetables, protein and calcium.
  • Visit your doctor regularly. One of the best ways to prevent future health risks is to have an annual physical exam. As uncomfortable as it may be, the common routine screenings performed by your doctor really do benefit your health.

Don’t let your age determine what kind of life you and your spouse will live and share together.

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Impacting Caregivers

While spouses providing care for their loved one are certainly impacted, studies have shown that you don’t have to be married for another’s health to affect your own.  Caregivers can also be negatively affected by their loved one’s declining health – physically, emotionally and financially. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that caregivers have lost a total of almost $3 trillion in wages, pension and Social Security benefits.

Caregiving can take a serious toll on your health, and even the study outlined above stressed the importance of taking breaks from caregiving duties. Click here to learn more about the signs of caregiver stress and tips for preventing caregiver burnout. 


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