You probably know it feels good to have strong, healthy relationships with a partner and other loved ones. Love can be a powerful force in our lives. But you may not know that loving relationships might also boost your physical and mental health.
“Long-term, stable relationships can be associated with several things, such as longevity, less stress and improved immune function,” said Jason Leubner, MD, a family medicine specialist with Banner Health. “And these influences aren’t necessarily limited to a strong primary intimate relationship, like marriage. They can come from a variety of social connections in our lives.”
We don’t know exactly how close relationships provide these benefits. “There are likely a variety of influences that interact in a complex way to result in this outcome,” he said.
Here are some of the ways love might be good for you.
Less stress and anxiety
Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, arguing with a sibling or struggling to pay your bills. Situations like these can make you feel stressed and anxious. This can lead to problems like fatigue, headaches, trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating.
If you can count on security and support from a partner or loved one, you’re less likely to feel stress and anxiety. “Many studies show associations between relationships and improvements in coping with stress,” Dr. Leubner said.
And spending time with loved ones can help you relax. Plus, feeling loved can improve your self-esteem and confidence, which can help you stay more resilient and feel secure when dealing with stressful situations.
Better mental well-being
One of the benefits of love is that people in loving relationships often tend to be happier and healthier than those who are alone or in unhappy relationships. You need to feel connected to others to thrive, and love gives you a sense of belonging, support, purpose and meaning. That connection can help you feel fulfilled, content, valued and accepted.
Improved heart health
The stress-relieving benefits of being in love may help your heart. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline increase your blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, chronic stress can damage your heart and blood vessels. It’s possible that social relationships can help counteract these effects.
Research has found that both happily married couples and people with quality friendships had lower blood pressure than people without these social connections.
Better immune system health
When you are in love, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, which can help support your immune system. “Oxytocin can impact the immune system in a variety of ways,” Dr. Leubner said. It helps fight inflammation and may play a role in the immune system’s surveillance, defense and balance in the body.
Research has found that people who feel loved and supported have higher levels of oxytocin and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Higher oxytocin levels could even mean you respond better to the flu vaccine.
Strong social ties can make you less likely to get sick and more likely to recover quickly if you do.
A healthier lifestyle
“Relationships have been shown to influence one’s health-related behaviors,” Dr. Leubner said. Research has found that loving spouses tend to encourage healthy behaviors like flossing and discourage unhealthy behaviors like heavy drinking.
If you’re in a loving relationship, you’re more likely to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep. You’re less likely to smoke or drink excessively. You and your partner can support each other, keep each other accountable and share goals as you work toward healthy lifestyle changes.
Relationships can also provide a sense of purpose in life that can translate to better self-care and less risk-taking.
People who are in committed relationships have lower levels of pain sensitivity and are better able to cope with pain.
“Studies have shown that people in long-term, stable relationships report less back pain and headaches,” Dr. Leubner said. “Some studies have shown that both touching and talking with a partner can reduce pain. And simply being in the same room or thinking about your partner has been shown to reduce pain as well.”
The benefits of being in love may work together to help you live longer. “It’s likely the cumulative effect of all the various health benefits that are associated with a strong relationship that can impact a person’s longevity,” Dr. Leubner said.
That is, if you have less stress, a stronger immune system, a healthier lifestyle and solid social connections, you’re setting yourself up for a longer, healthier life.
Research has found that older people who have strong social networks and relationships were 50% more likely to survive than those without these connections and that people with better social connections lived 5.4 years longer than others.
The bottom line
It can feel good to be in a happy, committed relationship with a partner or to have strong, supportive friendships and relationships with loved ones. And having a solid social network can also benefit your physical and mental health.
Research has found that loving relationships may help keep your heart healthy, lower stress, boost your immune system and help you live longer. To learn more about the connection between love and health, reach out to an expert at Banner Health.