In Sickness and in Health – How Happy Marriage Lowers Health Care Costs

Married people are healthier. Happily married couples live longer. We cost the health care system less than single people, use fewer health care resources, enjoy life more, experience fewer health disruptions, call in sick at work less often, have better sex (and more of it) and generally act as an example the current health care debate ignores, but shouldn’t.Marriage itself is a healthful act: It shows society that we’re serious about our commitments; it forces men (and women to some extent), to settle down, and stop deliberately unwholesome behaviors; marriage sets a good example to younger people; it strengthens communities in a myriad of ways, and overall, beneficial ones. Marriage is healthy. Promoting strong, solid marriage ought to be a part of the debate raging at present about health care, and the peripheral issues surrounding it. Not only because, as mentioned, marriage can be, and often is, a healthier status in life than remaining single.But in cases where marriage is the healthier option, there’s something missing from the debate: There’s no mention of personal responsibility for health. In many of the so-called town-hall debates seen in various media outlets, featured speakers in audiences of every stripe were typical Americans. Sadly, many of those people appeared to be overweight, out of shape, and clearly uninterested in their own health care. Indeed, if the typical American attending those debates were followed, many if not most would have recently arrived there after a multi-calorie, carbohydrate-laden meal that was essentially unhealthy for them. Many would be smokers. Many would demand that, whatever health care program evolved from the current endeavor to alter a broken system would be available to fix whatever physical depredations happened to them due to their own mismanagement of their health.Here are ways that married couples can, and should, act together, in responsible fashion, to maintain, or to regain their own trend toward a healthful, less resource-taxing lifestyle.1. The old broken record just keeps spinning–exercise, exercise, exercise it says again and again. As I write this, I find myself guilty of ignoring this simple advice; I hunch over my keyboard for the hour or so it takes to pound out an article, oblivious to the need for moving around every half hour or so. My spouse keeps me honest here: She mentions a walk, or joining her for twenty or thirty sit ups, or just standing and going up and down stairs. The point is, we need to prod and remind each other, and married people can do this easily, to establish and maintain some kind of exercise routine. One hour per week, ten or fifteen minutes every day would make all the difference. Let’s get off our duffs, and move around. We’ll all be fully sedentary soon enough. Sooner if we don’t take better care of ourselves.2. The obvious next factor is diet. It’s much too easy to prepare the same old salt and fat heavy, carb-laden, corn syrupy, red meat and potatoes meals day after day. If we’re not in the habit of grocery shopping together, perhaps we should start doing so. And shop for food with our health in mind, instead of what our mouths (and habits) crave. Read food labels together, and get familiar with ingredients. It’s truly difficult to weed out the carb-rich foods, simply because high carbohydrates seem to be an integral part of the American diet. And the sad fact is, that adults should ingest only about 25 or 30 grams of carbohydrates per day to stay at current weight. Only 20 to 25 grams to lose weight. Fiber intake helps reduce the fat-gain associated with carbs to some extent, but reducing carbs is key. And we eat too many of them, especially highly-processed sugars. Our cherished meals contain far too much carbohydrate–rice at around 35 grams per serving, pasta the same, cereals commonly contain 25 to 35 grams of carbs, enough for a day and half, and we’re just through breakfast! Couples need to monitor these ingredients together, learn what’s best for us, together, and prepare more healthful meals–together. That may be the only thing that works for weight loss and maintenance.3. It’s unusual for one spouse to smoke if the other doesn’t, at least for extended periods. If your spouse smokes cigarettes, you do too, inadvertently. Here’s where the marriage vows demand action. You said at the altar, “in sickness and in health”. If you’re the smoker, you have an obligation to your spouse and children to quit this unhealthy, wasteful habit. It’s possible to quit smoking. There are numerous workable programs and devices available. They likely work. As a former pack-a-day cigarette smoker myself, I can attest to the fact that quitting is possible; it is very difficult; it is a day by day affair for several months. But the other fact is this: Regardless of what program, device or regimen you’ve chosen to quit smoking, the only thing that works is your own determination to not smoke, ever again. Do it for your spouse; do it for your kids; do it, finally, for yourself. Easy? Nope. Necessary? Yep. Do yourself proud; stop smoking.Married people, in the last analysis, have a responsibility to all of society. We stood before our peers on our wedding day, and made vows. We promised to love and cherish one another; to stay together for richer and for poorer, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. The last vow is the only one with implications for the wider community. Our personal health truly does impact our neighbors’ quality of life, and even their longevity. If nothing else the current debate about health care has focused our attention on one word: Resources. Their presence; their absence; their limit. Married couples have a unique opportunity to see that those resources are used wisely.

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