It seems that married couples may spend less time in sickness than in health. Picture: Pexels

The wedding vow covers all eventualities – but it seems that married couples may spend less time in sickness than in health.

Researchers have found that older people who are married are physically fitter, with a stronger grip and faster walking pace.

Compared with their unmarried counterparts, they may live longer and be more protected against disability in old age.

The health boost comes mainly from married people being wealthier and living better. However, they may also benefit from their other half nagging them to take care of themselves.

Walking speed and hand grip are important measures of older people’s health.

Those who shuffle along or struggle to open a jam jar have been found to be at greater risk of losing their independence, ending up needing social care or dying at an earlier age.

Researchers wanted to see if these capabilities differed in older people on their first marriage, who had remarried, never married or were divorced or widowed. To test this, a team at University College London studied the physical capabilities of more than 20,000 people aged 60 and over in England and the US.

They found that married English men walked some four inches further every second than unmarried men, with married women moving three inches further than those who had never married. Divorced men were slower than married men, while divorced women had a weaker grip than those who were on their first marriage.

Experts believe the stress and upheaval of ending a marriage can take its toll on physical health. Dr Natasha Wood, who led the study at UCL’s Institute of Education, said: ‘We found that married people have better physical capabilities based on grip strength and walking speed.

‘More people are entering old age having never married, divorced or been widowed, [and] may experience more difficulties with everyday activities.’

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, found that lifelong bachelors and spinsters in England had a weaker grip than those on their first marriage, by approximately 2 per cent.

Researchers said most of the advantages of being married come from being wealthier. However, disregarding wealth, remarried men still had a stronger grip than unmarried men.

Dr Wood added: ‘We do not know if people who are healthier tend to get married or if something about being married promotes good health.’

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