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Dec. 16--Three weeks after Los Angeles firefighter John Nelson cruised by in his '57 'vette to whisk a flaming redhead on a blind date to the beach, she wore his engagement ring.
Nearly 47 years later, Nelson and his wife, Dianne, are still happily in harness, and healthy as horses.
"I'm sure my marriage to Dianne has improved my health," said the 70-year-old captain of Fire Station 102 in Sherman Oaks. "I haven't gone out and bar-hopped, caroused. I go camping. We do most things together.
"It's not only (made me) physically healthy, but mentally healthy. It has really been a happy ending."
A study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms what the Nelsons have known for years: Married couples are healthier than divorced, widowed and single adults.
The study bolstered a century of reports that claim that married adults are less likely to worry, suffer ill health or engage in such harmful vices as smoking, drinking and lazing on the couch.
The exception, credit the wife's pot roast, is that married men are more likely to pack on the pounds. Some 70.6 percent of husbands were overweight or obese, compared with 65.1 percent of all men.
"Married adults have better health habits and better health, except married men are fat," said study author Charlotte A. Schoenborn of the National Center for Health Statistics. "We don't know why."
The study, "Marital Status and Health: United States, 1999-2002," was based on interviews with nearly 128,000 adults.
Among the study's findings:
--The link between marriage and health persists regardless of socioeconomic status, education, poverty, race, ethnicity or where people are born.
--Unmarried adults in relationships who live together are more likely to have health problems than their married counterparts. Their health more closely resembles divorced and separated adults.
--The association between marriage and health is strongest in young adults, though it persists through life.
In addition to better health overall, the study found that married people reported less lower back pain, fewer headaches and less psychological stress. They also were less likely to drink and smoke and were more physically active.
Schoenborn said marriage might encourage health, as married couples might share more economic resources, social and psychological support and bolster healthy lifestyles.
Married couples might also be healthier at the altar, as healthy people get and stay married, whereas less-healthy people either don't marry or are more likely to become separated, divorced or widowed.
"They seem to have fewer vices," Schoenborn said. "They tend to have better health, fewer headaches, fewer worries, fewer health problems."
Fair or poor health was highest among widowed adults (19.6 percent); divorced or separated adults (16.6 percent); those living with a partner (14 percent); and those who had never married (12.5 percent).
Among unmarried adults, 10.5 percent reported lackluster health.
Brian Ritchey, who is divorced, said the study made sense. He loved being married, and had less stress.
"I guess it's comfort. Having someone there all the time, you don't worry as much," said Ritchey, 38, of Encino.
Sofia Beltran, who is going through a divorce, is less sure of its benefits.
"I'm healthy," said Beltran, 27, of Arleta, who is raising a daughter by herself. "But I was better before I was married. After you have kids, your body's never the same."
The Nelsons say their marriage is mutually supportive. They walk together, and talk at least nine times a day.
He joins her in dress shops. She joins him camping. They keep life simple.
And they raised four children through the harrowing gambit of drugs, early pregnancy and college before each child landed on his or her feet. In April, they'll celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary, in perfect health.
"When people say that my husband doesn't look 70, I won't let him," said Dianne Nelson, 65, of West Hills, who still has red hair. "He still has his hair, he gave up smoking, he started mall walking and got too fast for the malls.
"We love life. It goes back to all the old things. We smell the flowers. I find him attractive; he finds me attractive.
"It's a choice to be healthy or not."
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