February 13, 2017

How Love Makes Us Healthy

love makes us healthyThe day of romance is upon us and it is time to shower our loved one(s) with chocolate candy and flowers. It is Valentine’s Day. Love is powerful. Love has a way of getting us outside our comfort zones. We do things we may not normally do when in love. Probably no emotion has been written about more than “love”.  But, did you know that love and health are interrelated? Yes, love makes us healthy – or at least healthier. Love has an impact on our health in ways you may have never considered.

When we speak of love we are not talking about infatuation, or having a crush on another. We are talking about the type of love that fuels long-term committed healthy relationships.

12 Ways Love Make Us Healthy

Here 12 ways love makes us healthy. While most of the research on love and health focuses on marriages it is most likely that the following health benefits of love occur in any long-term positive relationship.

Love leads to….

  • a happier life.
  • a longer life.
  • a life with less anxiety and stress.
  • a life with less depression and substance abuse.
  • a healthier heart.
  • a life with less physical pain.
  • a body that heals faster.
  • a body with an enhanced immune system.
  • a life with better blood pressure control.
  • a life with less risk of chronic disease.
  • a life with decreased risk of stroke.
  • a more and better sex life.

Some of these health benefits of love are interrelated. For instance, an enhanced immune system improves wound healing and lowers the risk of chronic disease. A life with less chronic disease is more likely to be a longer and happier life. Better blood pressure control lessens the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Let’s look at some of the ways love makes us healthy in more detail.

Love and Happiness

Marriage or a long-term commitments do not necessarily make us more happy, but happy marriages and long-term relationships do. Though studies conflict on importance of the roles love and money on happiness, the quality of family relationships seems more important than money when it comes to happiness.

When it comes to marriage, one study showed happiness spikes in the year after marriage and remains higher over the years more so than it would have been had a person remained single. According to the study’s investigators, it isn’t necessarily that marriage makes people happier as much as it seems to protect against the natural decline in happiness seen in adulthood (seems to be some hair-splitting in that interpretation).

Love and Longer Life

The research on love and longer life is stronger than the research linking love and happiness. Data from the National Health Interview Survey collected between 1989 through 1997 on 66,000 people showed that individuals who never married were 58% more likely do die than married people.

A more recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who never married where likely to die a decade sooner than married people ranging from eight to 17 years sooner for males and seven to 15 years sooner for females among those unmarried. This study pooled data from 90 studies involving 500 million people (so not a small study).

Perhaps marriage motivates people to take better care of themselves for their spouse and kids.

Love, Pain, and Stress

A CDC report on 127,000 individuals showed married people were less likely to suffer from back pain and headache. Functional MRI studies show higher activation of pain (opioid) control centers in married couples, too.

Married couples seem to cope with stress better most likely through additional support from the spouse and family that comes through marriage.

Love and Wound Healing 

Positive relationships (more harmonious) are associated with better wound healing. Researchers at Ohio State induced blister wounds in married couples and found that those couples who interacted more warmly and positively toward each other during disputes healed twice as fast as those couples who were more argumentative.

Love and Depression and Substance Abuse

Social isolation is associated with higher rates of depression. Not surprisingly then, marriage reduces depression in both men and women. It is also associated with lower rates of heavy drinking and substance abuse in younger adults.

Love and Sex

You might think singles have more frequent wild sex. But, married couples actually have more sex and sex that is more varied. Perhaps being more familiar and more comfortable with each other allows for more “adventurous” sex.  See this Huffington Post article with an interview with Laura Berman, a sex expert.

Sex enhances immune function and lowers blood pressure offering some explanation as to why love is associated with lower blood pressure and enhances immune system function.

Love and Anxiety

Married couples and those in a committed romantic relationships show less of a cortisol spike (the stress hormone) than those who are single when stressful experiences are stimulated according to this study. Though marriage itself can be stressful, marriage seems to help married individuals better cope with other stressors outside the marriage – probably related to additional support.

A study using functional MRI found less anxiety in individuals in stable long-term relationships than those in a romantic relationship. Both groups showed similar brain patterns in some parts of the brain, but those in stable long-term relationship showed greater stimulation in parts of the brain linked to anxiety and bonding.

Love and the Heart

No discussion on love and health would be complete without discussing the heart – the symbol of love. Unmarried men are 58 to 66 percent more likely to have a cardiac event than married men in a Finnish study and unmarried women 60 to 65 percent more likely to have a cardiac event than married women certainly contributing to higher death rates in single individuals that we discussed earlier.

There is less calcification in the coronary arteries in people with heart disease (and better survival rates) who had a supportive spouse than those with heart disease who did not according to this study. So love, heart, and longevity are interrelated.

What is Love?

So what is love? I believe the best description of love can be found in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is many things. But….

If you had to describe love in just one word, what would it be? Think about that for a moment. What word would you pick that best encompasses all that love is?  I’ll give you my word once you have yours. Ok, do you have your word?  Here’s mine.

Above all else love is —- sacrifice. Love is selflessness. Love is not about what you get. It’s about what you give. It’s about the big things you give – and even the small things you give. Loving and giving have no boundaries and span the entire spectrum.

It may be your time that you give, your attention, your patience, your understanding, your abilities, your resources, your smile, your words, your hugs, maybe even your wink  😉 – but whatever it is – it is something you give. When you give, you sacrifice. When you sacrifice, you give something of yourself.

Others may not fully appreciate your love by what you give – but give of yourself anyway. You gain nothing by not. You will be rewarded in other ways if the love you show to another is not returned in kind. Love eventually conquers all – though it may be indirect and in ways not envisioned.

Love is not self-centered. It is not about you. It’s about others. It’s about your sacrifices that help others and improve their lives. What other way possible can best express your love other than by what you give — by what you sacrifice?

And, what is the ultimate sacrifice – the ultimate expression of love?

How about giving one’s life?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

*And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 13:13, New International Version.

 

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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