“There’s no evidence that the intense, passionate stage of a new romance is beneficial to health,” says Harry Reis, PhD, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. “People who fall in love say it feels wonderful and agonizing at the same time.” The ups and down of when you first fall in love can actually be more of a source of stress then a health benefit.
The health benefits of being in love come not in the beginning but once routine and stability have set in. “There is very nice evidence that people who participate in satisfying, long-term relationships fare better on a whole variety of health measures,” says Reis.
While most of the research done on the health benefits of love studied married couples, you can expect the same results being in a long-term relationship. Here are 10 research-backed ways love can improve your health.
Love Your Partner Not the Doctor
Based on studies conducted by the Health and Human Services Department, they found married couples make fewer doctor’s visits, and if they did have to spend time in the hospital, their stay were noticeably shorter than those who were single.
“Nobody quite knows why loving relationships are good for health,” Reis says. “The best logic for this is that human beings have been crafted by evolution to live in closely knit social groups. When that is not happening, the biological systems … get overwhelmed.”
Another theory as to why people in long term relationships take care of themselves better is simply because their significant other keeps them inline. They obviously will not want to be with someone who has poor personal hygiene or is unhealthy. Over time these good habits add up and it results in far less illnesses.
Less Depression and Substance Abuse
While people may joke about their spouse driving them crazy or causing them to drink, it is not true. Being in a committed long term relationship helps to reduce depression in both men and women. This is not overly surprising as humans are social beings and it has been proven depression greatly increases when an individual is socially isolated. When feeling more content, abusive heavy drinking is also greatly reduced, especially in younger adults.
Lowers Blood Pressure
For this benefit, you must have a good relationship. Based on a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, researchers found happily married couples had the best blood pressure. They were followed by single individuals and those who were in an unhappy marriage had the worst.
Reis says this study illustrates a vital aspect of the way marriage affects health. “It’s marital quality and not the fact of marriage that makes a difference.” This supports the idea that other positive relationships can have similar benefits. In fact, singles with a strong social network also did well in the blood pressure study, though not as well as happily married people.
More Relaxed, Less Anxious
It would be false to simply state being in a relationship helps to lower your anxiety. Truth is, the early stages of any relationship actually make you more anxious. When you are in a loving and stable relationship this is when the health benefits start.
Through the use of functional MRI scans, researchers showed both new couples and long-term couples showed activity in part of the brain associated with intense love, the dopamine-reward area of the brain. This is same area of the brain that responds to cocaine or winning a lot of money. Where the couples differed in their brain activity was the long term couples also had activity in the area of the brain associated with bonding, and less in the area producing anxiety.
Better Pain Control
During the same study which found a reducing in anxiety, researchers also discovered there was more activation in the part of the brain which keeps pain under control. There was also a Center of Disease Control study which found the same results. In the CDC study, 127,000 married adults were less likely to complain about headaches and back pain.
Enhanced Stress Management
As we have already shared, love helps couples cope with pain and it is also evident there is a link between the social support of being in a relationship and stress management. Couples love each other in good times and bad and when you are facing a stressor, having the support of someone who loves you is key to progressing through the challenge. In addition, if the stressor happens to be a loss of job or financial issues, having your loved one to help eases the burden and helps both of you get through the situation.
It is clear that loving relationships can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression – a fact that may give the immune system a boost. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who exhibit positive emotions are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, compared people who were happy and calm with those who appeared anxious, hostile, or depressed.
The power of a positive relationship may make flesh wounds heal faster. 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.
There continues to be a growing data from research showing married couples live longer than their single counterparts. One of the largest studies examines the effect of marriage on mortality during an eight-year period in the 1990s. Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that people who had never been married were 58% more likely to die than married people.
While being in the committed relationship couples have mutual practical support, financial benefits and even children who provide support. In addition to this marriage protects against death by eliminating or stopping feelings of isolation. “Loneliness is associated with all-cause mortality, dying for any reason,” says Reis. Married people live longer because they feel connected.
Happier Overall Life
It may seem obvious that one of love’s greatest benefits is joy. But research is just beginning to reveal how strong this link can be. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology shows happiness depends more on the quality of family relationships than on the level of income. And so we have scientific evidence that, at least in some ways, the power of love trumps the power of money.