(CNN)In the absence of a wedding ring, there may be another way to determine someone's marital status: the speed at which they walk.
According to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One, married people have better physical and mental health at older ages than unmarried people. Specifically, they walk faster and have a stronger grip.
Led by Natasha Wood from University College London's Institute of Education, researchers looked into the association between marital status and the ability to carry out everyday tasks in later life.
"There's been a lot of other research which has shown that married people are healthier and have lower rates of mortality but very little research which has looked at physical capability," Wood said.
The team elected to focus on two indicators: walking speed and grip strength. "Walking speed is an overall measure of health, which includes lots of things like balance, agility and speed, while grip strength reflects upper body strength," she explained.
The researchers analyzed data from two existing studies of older people and their physical capability: the English Longitudinal Study of Aging and the US Health and Retirement Study. The former surveyed English adults over 50, while the latter studied US adults over 51.
When assessing walking speed, the researchers used only data for adults 65 and older, to match the lowest age for that indicator surveyed in the Health and Retirement Study.
Married people were separated into those in their first marriage and those who had remarried, while unmarried people were divided into those who were divorced, who were widowed or who had never married. "People who are married are not a homogenous group of people, and someone who never marries is very different than someone who's been widowed or divorced," Wood said.
The researchers didn't look at people who were living together but weren't married, finding too few people in the two surveys who belonged to this category.
Up to 4 inches per second faster
In both studies, married people came out on top. Both unmarried men and women had slower walking speeds than their married counterparts. Men in England in their first marriage walked 4 inches per second faster than never-married men and 3 inches per second faster than widowers. There was a far less significant difference between men in their first marriage and remarried men, with the former walking less than a tenth of an inch per second faster.
The results were similar in the United States: Men in their first marriage walked about an inch per second faster than never-married men and 3 inches per second faster than widowed