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In a week, we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day. While the holiday is typically linked to expressing love to your partner, spouse, or other significant other, it’s also an invitation to think bigger picture: The positive emotion of love (whether it’s platonic or romantic) and specifically how it has a powerful correlation to our immune health, physical health, mental health, and more. Even if you’re someone who traditionally shuns the sappy cliches of February 14th, this is your opportunity to embrace all the health benefits of love and feel encouraged to express and receive love in all of its many shapes and forms.

4 Surprising Ways the Emotions of Love Boost Your Health

1. Love Boosts Your Feel-Good Hormones

When you feel loved or show love, it activates many areas of your brain and nervous system. Specifically, your body is flooded with endorphins and feel-good hormones.

For instance, one study found a strong spike in oxytocin in the early stages of a new relationship.

These hormones can elevate your mood, decrease sensations of pain, and even reduce the harmful effects that stress and anxiety have on your mental health and your immune system (the American Psychological Association has repeatedly warned about the harmful, weakening effects that chronic stress has on your body’s ability to fight off disease and resist bacteria and viruses).

2. You’ll Go to the Doctor Less

One of the most “striking” aspects of marriage and positive relationships is that people who self-report being in a good relationship tend to go to the doctor less than those who are in toxic relationships or who are single. “The Health and Human Services Department reviewed a bounty of studies on marriage and health,” explain the doctors at WebMD. “One of the report’s most striking findings is that married people have fewer doctor’s visits and shorter average hospital stays.”

Now, there is much debate over why this is, especially around the issue of causation (does marriage “cause” fewer doctor visits?) or correlation (are married people more stable and supported, and thus less likely to struggle with health issues?). While more research needs to be done, it’s clear there’s a link between how loved and accepted we feel and our health outcomes.

If this is true, it opens up the definition of “love” beyond the romantic or sexual and into the fields of friendships, community support, volunteering, and other strong, healthy social connections (the research here is much more in-depth, with social connection being a strong predictor of your health and wellness).

3. Love Significantly Impacts Specific Markers of Health

According to a synthesis of recent research, the positive emotions of love are linked with clear improvements in markers of health. These are specific measurements and criteria that doctors use to “measure” how healthy you are. Examples include love being able to:

  • Lower your risks of heart disease: The CDC warns that “heart disease is the leading cause of death for [Americans] and that “one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.”
  • Reduce your blood pressure (approximately half of all adults have high blood pressure, and only 1 in 4 adults have their high blood pressure under control)
  • Strengthen your immune health
  • Help you to heal from injury and from illness faster

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4. You’ll Live Longer

Perhaps due to the above factors, studies suggest that being in love can reduce your risks of premature death by 24%.

“People, particularly men, are healthier when they’re married, and they live longer,” says Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones, MD, who works at the University of Utah Healthcare. The healthcare provider explains that “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.”

Similar to the research on love and doctor visits, more research needs to be done in this area. However, the suggestions are clear: Finding ways to feel love, even outside of the realm of Valentine’s Day, may be one of the best ways to show your body and your immune system some love.

References:

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3936960/
  • https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune
  • https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/health-benefits
  • https://cmha.ca/the-importance-of-human-connection/
  • https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/private/pdf/75106/report.pdf
  • https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
  • https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm
  • https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/174/4/379/137060
  • https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2017/02/relationships.php