Love is on many minds as the dreariness of February dons the red and pink hues of Valentine’s Day. Although expressing love and affection between family members and friends garners a slice of Valentine’s Day attention, the holiday is most known in this country for a focus on romantic love, with millions of Valentine’s Day cards and gifts exchanged between sweethearts.
Some argue the February 14th holiday is but a scheme for the card, candy, and flower vendors to dupe folks out of their hard-earned cash. And while the commercialization of Valentine’s Day has, undeniably, increased, that’s no reason to forego celebrating the loving relationships in our lives. One significant motivation for celebrating all things love related is the myriad of health benefits experienced by those who find themselves surrounded by love.
When it comes to friendships, Kirtly Parker Jones, MD, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Healthcare, notes, “People involved in loving, philia-based relationships have [fewer] doctor visits, shorter hospital visits, have less pain, and have more positive emotions.”
The romantic-couple kind of love is powerful as well. “We are social creatures, and we do best when we have strong social support systems,” explains Baran Kilical, MD, a cardiologist at Anne Arundel Medical Center. “Being in love can affect everything from your stress levels to your heart health.”
Specific health benefits related to loving relationships include—
Social ties and longevity have been positively linked in numerous studies. “People, particularly men, are healthier when they’re married, and they live longer,” says Jones.
Factors such as reduced stress—a benefit in and of itself—as well as a willingness to give up bad, health-harming habits to support the relationship, result in better health. And notes Dr. Helen Riess, author, and director of the Empathy and Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, “Couples encourage each other to go to the doctor when they don’t want to.”
- Improved heart and lung health
The old ticker gets a big boost from loving relationships. Married folks experience half the risk of death from heart disease over their unmarried or divorced counterparts, along with a lowered risk of death following a heart attack. Strong, loving relationships tend to lower blood pressure and heart rate, likely due to a decreased stress response.
The same goes for the lungs. Being married can help ward off complications and death from pneumonia, shorten hospital stays, reduce the likelihood of ventilator support, and the need for admission to an intensive care unit.
- Less anxiety, less loneliness
“The feeling of loneliness stimulates anxiety, which is mediated by different neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine,” states Riess. “Also, cortisol and adrenaline levels rise when people feel insecure and threatened.” But close, loving relationships lessen both loneliness and anxiety.
So, this February, make a point to appreciate and nurture the loving relationships in your life. Your physical, mental, and emotional health will thank you.
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