People gain body weight when their partner is stressed out

Credit: A M Hasan Nasim/Pixabay.

Have you ever wondered how stress might affect your health?

Recent research at the University of Michigan has revealed some surprising information.

If you’re part of a married couple and you’re feeling stressed, it might cause you to gain weight!

In a new study, the researchers discovered that being in a stressful marriage could actually lead to weight gain, and potentially even obesity, in couples who are aged 50 and older.

They paid special attention to ‘chronic stress’ – that’s the type of stress that sticks around for a year or more.

This sort of stress often comes from big life problems, like money worries, troubles at work, or having to look after someone for a long time.

To get their data, the researchers used a big nationwide study about health and retirement. They selected 2,042 married individuals who answered questions about their waist size, how much they enjoyed their marriage, stress levels, and some other factors in the years 2006 and 2010. On average, these couples had been married for 34 years.

The results were really interesting. They found that when husbands reported not being happy in their marriage, it made the effects of their partner’s stress increase the size of both their own and their partner’s waistlines. When wives reported not being happy, it only affected their husband’s waist size.

When it came to the risk of becoming obese, 59% of the husbands and 64% of the wives were already at higher risk when the study first started. By the end, 66% of the husbands and 70% of the wives were at a greater risk. Almost one in ten of the participants even showed a 10% increase in waist size, which is like gaining an average of 4 inches over 4 years!

The study shows us that being in a marriage can have a big effect on our health. It turns out that the stress felt by one partner can influence the other’s waistline. Husbands usually report less stress in their marriage, so when they do, it might be more surprising and harmful. For wives, a low level of reported stress might mean they’re not really invested in the marriage.

Past studies have also shown that it’s good for couples to deal with stress together, and making goals as a couple can work better than making them alone. This study isn’t only applicable to older couples either – young couples can be affected by stress in their marriage too.

The full details of this study can be found in the Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

Citation: Birditt KS, et al. (2016). Chronic Stress and Negative Marital Quality Among Older Couples: Associations With Waist Circumference. Published online. DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbw112.