IF you want to stay healthy, stay married.

This is the message from a new study which shows that men who live alone for seven years or longer are more at risk of an early death, heart attacks and dementia.

The study of more than 4,800 people aged 48 to 62 examined their divorces and break-ups and how long they spent living alone between 1986 and 2011.

It was particularly bad news for those who went through two divorces or splits in long term relationships and lived alone for seven years.

They were found to have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies, which is linked to stress. This in turn is linked to dying earlier, hardened arteries, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and dementia.

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But the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found no such problems for women.

They seemed to handle the reality of multiple divorces and break-ups leading to extended periods of single life in a much healthier way, and showed no sign of increased inflammation.

The scientists behind the report speculated that middle-aged women have more extended networks of friends and through them more emotional support than men of the same age. This support would reduce stress and therefore avoid its harmful effects on health.

On top of the relative lack of emotional support, men are more likely to live more unhealthily after splitting from their other halves. On average, men who went through two or more divorces had 17% higher levels of interleukin 6 and C-reactive protein –  two chemicals that indicate inflammation – than those who were in a steady relationship.

Regardless of divorce, men who lived alone for seven or more years had a level of blood chemicals linked to inflammation which was up to 12% higher than those who lived alone for no more than a year.

Professor Rikke Lund, senior author of the study, from the University of Copenhagen, said: “Evidence shows that men tend to depend more on their female partners than the other way around, so are more vulnerable if they lose them.”

The link between break-ups, living alone and inflammation was present even after existing illnesses, obesity and medication were taken into account.

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