It is common knowledge that divorce wreaks havoc on emotions and bank accounts. New research shows that divorce also has a marked, long- lasting impact on health.
According to a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, "Marital Biography and Health Midlife," widowed and divorced individuals suffer from 20% more chronic illnesses, like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes than those who have not experienced divorce or the loss of a partner.
Divorced and widowed individuals were also 23% more likely to have mobility issues, like trouble walking or difficulty climbing stairs, than married individuals.
The study also showed that the physical effects of divorce may linger over time and may be present even if the person remarries. According to the findings, widowed and divorced individuals who later remarried were still 12% more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses and 19 % more likely to have mobility issues than married people who had not been married or widowed before.
Another study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University's Institute for Social and Behavioral Research found that while women showed no decline to their physical health immediately after divorce, a decade later divorced women were 37% more likely to develop physical illnesses than married women. Iowa State researchers attribute this higher incidence in physical illness to the lingering emotional effects of divorce.
Research shows that there are several reasons for declining health after divorce. The Iowa State study cites social isolation and poor job opportunities as a possible cause for women reporting illness a decade after their divorce. Other studies suggest that, apart from the emotional toll of the actual break-up, individuals face a series of new emotional challenges after divorce. Yet other studies suggest that after divorce, many individuals stop taking care of themselves, eating right, and exercising regularly.
Many of the emotional stressors divorced individuals have to cope with have to do with children. These include the stress and time constraints of being a single parent, the feelings of guilt at not being able to devote time to a child in their formative years, and the worry of what effect the divorce will have on the child. Other emotional problems that can arise from divorce have to do with creating a new social life, making new friends, and dating again. Many recent divorced individuals feel overwhelmed and do not carry on a healthy social life. All of these emotional problems could lead to health problems in the future.
The increased work-load, both at home and professionally, and the decrease in income, may also lead individuals to stop taking proper care of themselves after divorce. Because they are either over worked, depressed, or insolvent, many individuals stop eating a balanced meal or exercising regularly. When a person suddenly becomes a single parent with twice the responsibilities, there is often little time to go to the gym or cook a healthy meal every day. This all takes a toll on health in the long run.
Although research is on-going, it is clear that the emotional and physical changes that come with divorce often work together over time to erode an individual's overall physical health. Anyone faced with a divorce or significant break up should be aware of these risks and be prepared to prioritize their health and well-being.