Aging is no fun. As you get older, your body weakens and it becomes more and more difficult to walk and complete even basic tasks. Now scientists from UCL analysed data from over 20,000 people from England and the United States and found that people who are married walk better at later stages in life and can brag about a stronger grip.
Scientists focused on people aged 60 and more years. They paid a particular attention to two measures – walking speed and grip strength – and tried to find a correlation with whether these people are married or single. Scientists say that they chose walking speed and grip strength as good indicators of people's current independence and their future needs. For example, a weak grip would not allow opening jars, while slow walking speed poses dangerous situations – will an old man cross the street safely and on time? Scientists knew from previous researches that married people live longer and report better physical and mental health, but now they wanted to see if they have better physical capabilities as well.
The difference in grip strength between men who were in their first marriage and widower men was 0.73 kg. Meanwhile married men had a stronger grip by 0.61 kg than those who were never married. The difference was bigger in US. Also, remarried men also had a stronger grip than both men who were in their first marriage and those who were single. Men in their first marriage were also walking slightly faster than those who were never married – this time American men were slightly behind their British counterparts. Married elderly women also enjoyed the same physical health benefits. However, the majority of these differences disappeared once the researchers had accounted for wealth.
Scientists say that more and more elderly people do not have a partner. Some of them never got married, while others got divorced or experienced death of their spouse. There will be more of these people in the future and it is important to be prepared for that, because they will experience more difficulty remaining independent. Dr Natasha Wood, lead author of the study, said: “The importance of wealth in explaining much of the poorer physical capability among older unmarried people suggests that protecting and improving the financial circumstances of unmarried people may help to ensure they’re on a level playing field with married people in terms of physical capability and independent living in later life”.
Paying attention to the effects of financial situation on people’s physical health is something that policy makers should do more. However, for now relatives should make sure that single elderly would not be lonely and would have all the help they need.