Who is your favorite person with whom to share the good news, quiet moments, funny stories, frustrations, or silly observations from the commute to work? We regularly turn to different people for different reasons. On any given day, we engage in a variety of relationships. From coordinating our day with our spouse and children, collaborating with coworkers, and saying hello to our favorite grocery cashier, loving relationships sustain us, define us, and keep us healthy.
“People involved in loving, philia-based relationships have [fewer] doctor visits, shorter hospital visits, have less pain, and have more positive emotions,” said Kirtly Parker Jones, MD, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Healthcare. She added that loving friendships make us more resilient when hard times come. It’s one thing to feel good about a relationship, but can that relationship actually be good for our health.
Here are seven proven health benefits from sharing a healthy relationship.
1. We live longer
Studies show that those engaged in positive relationships live longer. “People, particularly men, are healthier when they’re married, and they live longer,” said Jones. Experts attribute this phenomenon to factors like reduced stress, and in romantic relationships, a partner often gives up bad habits—like heavy drinking or smoking—in support of the relationship. As a result, healthy habits increase longevity.
2. We heal quicker
“Generally, we see patients with strong social support having better recoveries,” said Benjamin A. Steinberg, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the cardiovascular division of the University of Utah Healthcare. “That can be from friends or family, or even support from an animal partnership, like a pet.” Steinberg attributes improved recovery to lower levels of stress hormones, like cortisol.
3. We have lower blood pressure
Finding a love connection can make your heart skip a beat, but the safe and secure feeling of a positive relationship calms anxiety and keeps your blood pressure in check. “We know that sudden negative emotions can lead to sensations mimicking a heart attack, also known as ‘broken heart syndrome.’” said Steinberg. “It stands to reason the opposite is true, as well.” Additionally, people feeling love are more relaxed and more likely to engage in exercise or other activities beneficial to the heart.
4. We bolster our immune systems
It never fails: the moment we experience heightened stress levels, either from work or personal conflicts, a cold is sure to follow. Yet studies show that people who engage in supportive, positive relationships produce more oxytocin and seem less likely to succumb to the negative effects of stress, anxiety, and depression.
5. We are more physically fit
When it’s hard to keep motivated to exercise and eat right, the support of a good friend can give you a needed boost to stay on track. New romantic relationships are a boon to weight loss and good health since we want to look and act our very best for that special someone. There’s nothing quite like a flurry of compliments to motivate us to maintain our physical appearance.
6. We enjoy good heart health
When your main squeeze makes your heart race, it’s giving your heart a healthy workout. Those loving feelings cause your brain to release dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which make your heart beat faster and stronger in response to such emotions.
7. We feel less pain
Do you remember the movie where the courageous hero endures extensive pain for his true love? His inspiration may be out of sight, but a mental image of her is enough for him to withstand pain for her sake. As it turns out, he probably could. A behavioral study demonstrated that “the presentation of romantic partner pictures was sufficient to reduce experimentally-induced pain.” By contrast, showing suffering subjects random photos of attractive people didn’t show any reduction in reaction.
Yes, loving relationships make us happy, but they also keep us healthy. From improving our immune system and blood pressure to helping us heal quicker and enjoy life longer, a happy relationship is life’s greatest medicine. Go ahead, take that free hug. It’s good for you.