Ah February, the month of love! Love means many things to different people. Fundamentally, “love” encompasses the emotions and behaviors characterized by shared intimacy and commitment. Whether you are in an established relationship or contemplating saying the big L word for the first time, the language we use to describe love and relationships often evokes the heart, the gut, the mind, and even the chest and lungs.
When we speak about falling in love, we might refer to a feeling in our chest or the sense of butterflies in our stomach. When contemplating love, perhaps you have even asked yourself: “Does my heart truly skip a beat?” “Do I lose my breath when we’re together?” or “Does my gut tell me this is right?”
Why do we routinely use the vocabulary of the body to describe love?
The simple answer is that love and relationships – whether satisfying or toxic – affect our health and well-being, and may even contribute to our future risk of developing health conditions. In fact, research suggests that people in happy relationships are more likely to live a healthier lifestyle, opting to eat healthy, exercise, and not smoke. These lifestyle factors may contribute to decreased risk of developing common chronic conditions. According to Luminis Health, married people have half the risk of death from heart disease than single or divorced people. Research also suggests that people who are in healthy and loving relationships have better survival rates after coronary bypass surgery than those who are single or in unhappy relationships.
Loving relationships have several health benefits across numerous body systems
Additionally, studies show that having strong loving relationships improves our bodies’ stress response and reactivity to stressful situations. Thus, having a loving partner has been associated with decreased blood pressure and heart rate, which decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Having a loving relationship has also been linked with decreased blood sugar levels, which may decrease a person’s risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, gout, and metabolic syndrome. Being in love also has benefits for the lungs. According to Luminis Health, married couples have a decreased risk of pneumonia, are less likely to require ventilator support, and are less likely to end up in the ICU compared to unmarried people.
There are many benefits associated with sexual intimacy as well. Sex has the potential to improve our mental health. Sex can reduce levels of stress, improve sense of well-being and perception of one’s own health, and lead to increased feelings of being in a fulfilling relationship. Moreover, couples who believe they are in satisfying relationships are more likely to report their health as “excellent” or “very good” rather than “good” or “poor.” According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of positive thinking about one’s health may lead to even more health benefits including decreased risk of sickness/common cold, depression, mental distress, and overall mortality.
On the other hand, unhealthy relationships have been associated with men and women having higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar, and an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Toxic relationships are not only dangerous for our physical health but for our mental health too. Studies show that those in unhealthy relationships have decreased self-esteem and self worth; they also are more likely to suffer from increased stress, anxiety, and depression.
Is there a minimal dosage of ‘love’ needed for health benefits?
While we recommend soaking up all the love in your life, if you’re in a loving relationship – it might be great to know that a little affection goes a long way! A study done at the University of North Carolina showed that small doses of warm affection can have benefits on our cardiovascular health. The study found that couples who held hands for just 10 minutes and hugged for 20 seconds prior to public speaking had lower blood pressure, heart rate, and an overall increased sense of well-being compared with those who simply sat quietly for 10 minutes and 20 seconds prior to public speaking. This finding suggests that even minimal warm contact with a partner can decrease our reactivity to stressful situations and may support our cardiovascular health.
As you can see there are many health benefits of being in love
Feelings of love increase the production of vital chemicals and neurotransmitters in the body leading to:
- A stronger immune system
- Increased vitality and energy
- Lower stress hormone levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced feelings of anxiety
- Lower blood sugar levels
All these benefits lead to both an increased lifespan and healthspan (we love this!).
A final note on all loving relationships
Let’s not forget the relationship we have with ourselves. Our relationship with ourselves impacts our relationship with others and, therefore, it is important to love our partners and also to love ourselves.
Lastly, if you are spending this Valentine’s Day alone, do not fret – you can reap many of the same benefits of being in love by having a strong support system with loved ones around you.
Feeling connected to others and engaging in physical touch (even with something as simple as a hug) can help keep you feeling your healthiest, decrease stress levels, and make you less prone to sickness. Focus on nourishing your relationship with yourself, friends, and family during this month of love. By spending time fostering healthy and loving relationships, you are also investing in your personal health and wellness!