By Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN
You know that being in love warms your heart. But did you know that it also improves your health — and may even lengthen your life? “Since the mind and body are interconnected, when one’s emotional mind is feeling well, one’s body feels well,” says marriage and family therapist and relationship expert Karen Ruskin, PsyD, LMFT. Read on for eight reasons why being hit by cupid’s arrow is good for your health.
Put a ring on it! People who are married live longer than people who aren’t, according to a 2006 analysis of data collected by the United States government. What’s more, the study finds that people who’ve never been hitched (as opposed to those currently or previously having been married) have the highest risk of dying prematurely. While researchers aren’t sure of the exact cause, they note that being isolated socially may increase the risk of death from all causes — a good reason to keep up with friends and family, whether you’re in a romantic relationship or not. “One’s mate is often one’s advocate,” says Ruskin. “Having help through the emotional and physical life journey rather than going it alone helps one to be healthy.”
Love really does hurt so good, or rather, less. When scientists at Stanford University took brain scans of 15 students who described themselves as being “intensely in love” and exposed them to brief periods of pain, the students experienced lower levels of pain as they looked at photos of their romantic partners. (Performing a distracting activity also decreased pain levels, though not as well, and through a different pathway.) Seeing pictures of their lovers also gave the reward-processing regions of the brain a boost in activity.
Having more sex can give you the gift of youth, according to British psychology researcher David Weeks. In his 10-year study, Weeks found that people who had sex three times a week or more looked 10 to 12 years younger than their less, er, active counterparts. And the, um, happy ending to the story: In a Welsh heart disease study from 1997, risk of mortality was 50% lower in men who had two or more orgasms per week than those who did so less frequently.
When scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison put 16 happily married women in an fMRI machine and delivered small shocks to their ankles, anxiety levels (understandably) spiked. But when the women’s husbands reached in and held their hands, the area of the brain that registers anxiety calmed right down. Holding the hand of a stranger had some impact, though not as pronounced.
When married couples had supportive conversations, their bodies healed from minor wounds more quickly than when the same couples discussed a marital disagreement, according to research from Ohio State University. Researchers pointed to this as further evidence that everyday stressors, such as marital spats, negatively affect health. In addition, the people who were in more hostile relationships overall also produced more of the inflammatory cytokines that are linked with accelerated aging.
Happily married couples have lower rates of blood pressure as well as depression when compared with those who are not married or in unhappy marriages, according to a 2008 study from Brigham Young University. It’s not the marriage itself that’s important, say the researchers, but rather the support and satisfaction in life that such a relationship can bring.
Being in a good relationship may improve your cardiovascular health. Women in unhappy marriages or live-in relationships are at eight and a half times higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke than those in positive partnerships, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh.
Married people with cancer are 20% less likely to die from the disease compared with unmarried patients, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. They also have a greater chance of finding the cancer in the first place, and are more inclined to enter treatment. The reason, say researchers: The social support that comes along with marriage is sure to play some role. Having a mate provides a built-in advocate, cheerleader, assistant, and counselor, says Ruskin, not to mention a person to “live for,” all factors that can make a huge difference for a person who is battling illness.
Published February 2, 2015.
Rachel is a New York City-area nutrition writer, educator and counselor.
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