Since today is Valentines Day, the day we go out of our way to show our loved ones how much we love them, I thought it was appropriate to talk briefly about the health benefits of love.
We humans are wired for connection. However, the quality of that connection is what is most important. You can be single and have a warm, supportive circle of friends which benefit you in myriad ways or you can be married and unhappy and it is sapping the joy and health from your life. In talking about “love” I am not specifically talking about romance.
As with food – quality matters! So please keep that in mind as I briefly list these 10 health benefits of love. While much of the research in this area centers on marriage, the benefits extend to any close relationship including partner, friend or parent. If the relationship leaves you feeling valued and respected and you enjoy a sense of belonging, these are the benefits you can expect:
Less Depression & Substance Abuse: According to a report by the Health and Human Services, getting married and staying married reduces depression in both men and women. We know social isolation is clearly linked to higher rates of depression. Interestingly, marriage also contributes to a decline in heavy drinking and drug abuse, especially among young adults.
Lower Blood Pressure: According to a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine happily married people had the best blood pressure, followed by singles. Unhappily married participants fared the worst.
Less Anxiety: A loving, stable relationship is superior to new romance. Researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook compared brain scans of passionate new couples with strongly connected long-term couples. While both groups showed activation in a part of the brain associated with intense love, those in long-term relationships also had activation in the areas of the brain associated with bonding and less in the area that produces anxiety.
Natural Pain Control: The brain scan also study reveals long-term couples have more activation in the part of the brain that keeps pain under control.
Better Stress Management: There is also evidence of a link between social support and stress management.
Fewer Colds: Since loving relationships can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, it makes sense that it may also boost the immune system. One study found that people who exhibit positive emotions are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses.
Faster Healing: Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center gave married couples blister wounds. The wounds healed nearly twice as fast in spouses who interacted warmly compared with those who demonstrated a lot of hostility toward each other.
Longer Life: Pursuant to an 8-year study in the 1990’s, researchers found people who had never been married were 58% more likely to die than married people. Their takeaway is that loneliness is associated with a higher risk of dying for any reason and feeling loved and connected protects against this.
Happier Life: While I don’t think we need a study to prove this, a study in the Journal of Family Psychology shows happiness depends more on the quality of family relationships than on the level of income.
So celebrate those close, loving relationships in your life today and everyday and know that beyond the joy they bring, you are reaping wonderful health benefits as well! Happy Valentines Day!
Do you find having close, loving relationships has benefitted your health?
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