Whether you like it or not, love is everywhere today. You won’t be able to avoid the heart-shaped balloons at your grocery store, the red and pink decorations at every window or the love songs on the radio. And maybe you feel obliged to bring a little something home tonight.
Well, let that little something be knowledge….
We all know that being in love is a happy and warm feeling. But it’s actually far more than that. Through my research, I’ve come across a really interesting fact: Love can make you live longer! And where there’s love, there’s sex…
The good news is, even if married couples have the best results in health tests, single people who have a strong social group aren’t far behind. So, whether love comes to you from your partner or your best friend, you’ll get the advantages.
Love & Your Heart
The Health and Human Services Department reviewed a bounty of studies on marriage and health. One of the report’s most striking findings is that married people have fewer doctor’s visits and shorter average hospital stays.
“Nobody quite knows why loving relationships are good for health,” says Harry Reis, PhD, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. “The best logic for this is that human beings have been crafted by evolution to live in closely knit social groups.”
“There’s a long history of research that has looked at the health benefits of marriage,” says Joseph Hullett, MD, psychiatrist and senior medical director for OptumHealth, Behavioral Solutions. “According to a 2004 study by the CDC, mortality rates were found to be the lowest in married couples.”
Dr. Hullett attributes these findings to the fact that, generally speaking, people experience less stress when they’re in committed, healthy relationships—and less stress means better health.
“Human beings are social animals who have biological drives that make them want to find relationships,” says Dr. Hullett.
Plus, it has been shown that when men marry they give up some of their risky behavior—like heavy drinking and smoking—which leads to longevity.
Another theory is that people in good relationships, whether they’re married or not, take better care of themselves. A best friend could motivate you to eat more whole grains. A spouse may keep you honest in your oral hygiene. Or exercise more…
It turns out that couples who exercise together have more success than people who sweat solo. According to certified fitness trainer and nutritionist Jay Cardiello, “Both men and women work between 12 and 15 percent harder when training with a romantic partner.” Whether it’s the excitement of being together or the extra push to keep up with your partner, sweating à deux clearly has its benefits. And over time, these good habits translate to fewer illnesses.
However, your relationship has to be happy to be good for your blood pressure.
That’s the conclusion of a study in the Annals Of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers found happily married people had the best blood pressure, followed by singles. Unhappily married participants fared the worst.
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.
Finally, research shows that men who have sex 2+ times per week have a lower risk of heart disease than those who have sex less than once a month. That could be a nice habit to start on Valentine’s Day…
Love & Your Brain
We all know that being in love makes us feel elated, but it’s not just in our heads. There actually is scientific evidence of romance’s blissful effects on the brain. Dr. Braverman references a study from Rutgers University that found participants, when they looked at photos of people they deeply love, had an increase of dopamine brain activity, which is associated with optimism, energy and a sense of well-being. Talk about being high on love!
Helen Fisher, PhD, a biological anthropologist and author of Why Him? Why Her? supports this notion: “The bottom line is, the dopamine rush that comes from being in love gives you tremendous energy and optimism.”
When it comes to anxiety, a loving, stable relationship is superior to new romance. Researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook looked at the brains of people in love. They compared passionate new couples with strongly connected long-term couples. Both groups showed activation in a part of the brain associated with intense love.
“It’s the dopamine-reward area, the same area that responds to cocaine or winning a lot of money,” says Arthur Aron, PhD, one of the study’s authors. But there were striking differences between the two groups in other parts of the brain. In long-term relationships, “you also have activation in the areas associated with bonding … and less activation in the area that produces anxiety.”
The study was presented at the 2008 conference of the Society for Neuroscience and reveals another big perk for long-term couples—more activation in the part of the brain that keeps pain under control. A CDC report complements this finding. In a study of more than 127,000 adults, married people were less likely to complain of headaches and back pain.
A small study published in Psychological Science adds to the intrigue. Researchers subjected 16 married women to the threat of an electric shock. When the women were holding their husband’s hand, they showed less response in the brain areas associated with stress. The happier the marriage, the greater the effect.
“Yes, friends helped reduce the pain that these subjects were feeling, but their husband did a better job at it,” says Dr. Hullett.
If love helps people cope with pain, what about other types of stress? There seems to be evidence of a link between social support and stress management: if you’re facing a stressor and you’ve got the support of someone who loves you, you can cope better. If you lose your job, for example, it helps emotionally and financially if a partner is there to support you.
This last point is crucial, Aron tells WebMD. Although partners often provide support during a crisis, this support is even more beneficial during good times. As the proverb goes, Shared sorrow is half sorrow; shared joy is double joy.
Love & Your Skin
That healthy glow of being in love? It’s not just a myth!
“When our love life is in order, our stress levels are lower,” says Genaise Gerstner, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. “There is less free-floating cortisol—high cortisol levels cause stress-induced acne––and thus less skin breakouts and pimples.”
Dr. Gloria G. Bramer, a Georgia based licensed clinical sexologist adds that love-making gives your skin a heavenly glow because it improves blood circulation, which helps to pump oxygen to your skin and make it brighter. It also helps to eliminate toxins and can actually make your lips a little fuller.
Regular sexual engagement has lasting effects: it boosts your natural collagen production, which staves off age spots and sagging. So simply put? More wrinkles in the bed equals fewer wrinkles on your face!
Dr. Yvonne Fulbright, author of The Better Sex Guide to Extraordinary Love Making, says that a study was done on sex and youth a few years back to prove this point. In a span of 10 years, 3,500 men and women, both those who had sex regularly and those who didn’t, were put on one side of a two-way mirror, where participants on the other side had to guess their age. The group that had an active sex life had their age underestimated by seven to 12 years, while some thought the group that only had sex infrequently actually looked older
However, it’s not always possible to have that healthy and regular sex life, whether you’re in a relationship or not. So, whenever you feel alone and need some love, a piece of chocolate could do the trick, at least for your brain.
The chemical phenethylamine (PEA) occurs in chocolate in small quantities, stimulates the nervous system and triggers the release of pleasurable opium-like compounds known as endorphins. It also potentiates the activity of dopamine, a neurochemical directly associated with sexual arousal and pleasure.
“While there are a great many agents in nature which boost libido and enhance sexual function, chocolate alone actually promotes the brain chemistry of being in love.” – Chris Kilham, Fox News