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Forget fairy tales of Prince Charming or sappy country songs by Taylor Swift. Beyond poetic verses and romantic stories, love has a tangible impact on our well-being, influencing both our mental and physical health in ways that science is only beginning to unravel. As we delve into the intricacies of human connection, it becomes increasingly evident that love is not just a fleeting emotion but a potent elixir with far-reaching health benefits. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time for us to explore the health benefits of love — both romantic love, as well as platonic love between friends, community members, and society in general.

The Loneliness Epidemic: Millions Are Missing Out on the Health Benefits of Love

According to multiple government agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we are in the midst of an epidemic. No, we aren’t talking about COVID-19, although social lockdowns associated with COVID-19 definitely play a role. We’re talking about loneliness.

In fact, the problem has become so pronounced, it even warranted its own surgeon general’s warning last year (yes, the surgeon general issued a health warning about loneliness not unlike what’s on cigarettes!).

“In the scientific literature, I found confirmation of what I was hearing,” explains Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States. “In recent years, about one-in-two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic cut off so many of us from friends, loved ones, and support systems, exacerbating loneliness and isolation.”

“Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling—it harms both individual and societal health,” he added. “It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, and premature death. The mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity. And the harmful consequences of a society that lacks social connection can be felt in our schools, workplaces, and civic organizations, where performance, productivity, and engagement are diminished.”

If anything, this is a call to action this Valentine’s Day to do what we can to create social connection, both for ourselves and those around us.

What Are the Health Benefits of Love?

Establishing and maintaining positive relationships can contribute significantly to both mental and physical well-being.

For example, engaging in meaningful relationships — whether romantic or platonic — has been linked to lower stress levels. Social support provides a buffer against the negative effects of stress, helping you to cope more effectively with life’s challenges.

Similarly, positive relationships play a crucial role in mental health. A strong support system can provide comfort, encouragement, and understanding during difficult times, reducing the risk of conditions like depression and anxiety.

For those of us who are already in platonic or romantic relationships, it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways. When we share great moments with those we love, that enhances our relationships, which in turn boosts how we perceive those same moments. Sharing experiences, both joyous and challenging, with someone you trust fosters emotional intimacy. This emotional connection contributes to a sense of fulfillment, happiness, and overall well-being.

Then there are the specific, measurable outcomes that relationships have on our physical well-being:

  • Longevity: Studies have shown that individuals with strong social connections tend to live longer. Social engagement is associated with a decreased risk of mortality, emphasizing the importance of relationships in promoting a healthier and longer life.
  • Immunity: Positive relationships have been linked to enhanced immune system function. The emotional support provided by close connections may contribute to a more robust immune response, helping the body better defend against illnesses.
  • Heart health: Maintaining healthy relationships has been associated with lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. The emotional support and companionship provided by strong relationships may contribute to heart health.
  • Healing: Having a network of supportive relationships can expedite recovery from illness or surgery. The emotional and practical assistance provided by loved ones can positively impact the healing process.
  • Brain health: Social engagement has been linked to better cognitive function and a reduced risk of cognitive decline as we age. Meaningful conversations and shared experiences stimulate the brain, contributing to its overall health.

As you can see, Valentine’s Day is more than just an excuse to buy a Hallmark card. It’s a great reminder that fostering positive relationships isn’t just about emotional satisfaction; it’s a powerful investment in your overall health. Nurturing connections with family, friends, and partners can have a profound impact on both your mental and physical well-being, creating a foundation for a happier and healthier life. As we inch closer to February, let’s devote more time on those social connections and experiencing the health benefits of love.

References:

  • https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf
  • https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2000/08/stress
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/strengthen-relationships-for-longer-healthier-life
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7025456/
  • https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/02/05/how-a-happy-relationship-can-help-your-health