Everyone knows the cliché, romantic comedy stereotype. A person in love seems to walk on air, have a magical glow, and radiate joy from every pore. While it may not be quite so peachy-keen in real life, most people would agree that love, especially the early stages of it, brings about a mood of happiness with many physical and emotional benefits.
What may not be quite so obvious is that the effects of being in love are more far reaching than meets the eye. Many studies conducted have shown that love positively affects the body and physical health as well as emotional health.
In these studies, love is defined as a joyful, visceral connection to another person, whether married, dating, or in the first few moments of falling in love. Human beings are social creatures, and seek out loving relationships for companionship and connectivity. This sense of partnership and belonging brings great emotional joy, but most surprising are the tangible, physical effects of love.
Research has shown that love can help people live longer and with less stress, have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of dementia and depression. Married men and women have been proven to be healthier, live longer, drink less, and visit the doctor less than unmarried people. Some medical findings demonstrate that physical wounds disappear faster in people who have supportive discussions with a partner during the healing process. And of courses, there is the exultant glow of a person in love. Happy, positive people look better and feel better from day to day, and as they age.
Many studies about love refer to married men and women, but long term love without the license is still good for health. In fact, without love, the benefits of marriage decrease. Studies show that unhappily married couples have higher blood pressures than both married and unmarried people. In some cases, partners may be better off (and healthier) alone.
Why exactly does love have these healthful side effects? The reasons range from emotional to logical to scientific. Logically, loving partners and spouses are more likely to encourage healthy habits in their significant other, such as preventative care, having health insurance, exercising, and flossing. A loving partner will also discourage unhealthy habits, such as heavy drinking and smoking. Scientifically speaking, the brain’s dopamine reward system that enacts feelings of pleasure is triggered by love. Contact with a loved one also triggers a physical response by releasing the hormone oxytocin, in turn lowering stress, reducing blood pressure, improving mood, and increasing tolerance for pain. And besides just sexual contact, long-term couples create bonds through other forms of intimate touch, such as cuddling and hugging.
All in all, a person in love tends to be happier, in mind and in body; indeed, emotional and physical health often go hand in hand as far as the repercussions of love are concerned. Improved mood and feelings of acceptance can lead to more energy and generosity, and less stress. Also, the sharing and displays of generosity between partners stir generous feelings in both parties and makes them better givers and more gracious acceptors. Having someone to share worries and fears can also lessen the mental and physical burden on a person, lowering their stress levels and relieving feelings of responsibility and pressure. And emotional and spiritual growth are more apt to occur when one’s heart and mind are open and available.
What about single people? Are they destined to a life of sadness and misery? Of course not! While studies have shown a strong correlation between marriage and health, the act of simply loving another person can provide happiness. There are many different types of relationships that bring similar health benefits to people who are not married. Parent, child, sibling, friend, neighbor, colleague, and family relationships all require trust, support, and love from both sides to thrive. Short term friendly or romantic relationships also have the potential to grow into long-term ones that will continue to provide emotional and physical benefits throughout both party’s lives. In fact, studies show that all strong emotional connections improve the odds of survival by about 50 percent. That means being social and connected to people has the same benefits as quitting smoking, and even more physical benefits than exercise.
The advice that applies to single people and those who find themselves with a few less social connections than they’d prefer applies to everyone. When a bad situation presents itself, the best idea is to reach out and make contact. Sharing worries with others and letting them help to bear the load makes the load lighter for everyone; this in turn lowers stress while strengthening the bonds that get people through the hard times in life. Physical contact with another person can also help relieve stress and build feelings of connectedness. Even among friends, a shoulder squeeze or hug can have positive health effects.
These glowing benefits of low may make the cynic suspect if the opposite is also true. Unfortunately, it can be. Rejection or loss in love can be a major factor in depression and suicide, especially in younger people. Divorce also affects health; according to one study, divorced or widowed people have 20 percent more chronic health conditions than people that are still part of a long-term couple. Even remarriage does not completely negate the effects of a previous love gone wrong. However, losing love can have a positive spin. Dealing with a failed relationship can help foster an enlightened personal state of mind.
Human brains and emotions are wired to crave intimate love and it’s easy to see why. The body and the mind both improve in a big way when a person is in love. But don’t forget that romantic love is not the only type of love. Everyone benefits from close friendships and family relationships. And that’s a fact anyone can love.
Julia McCurley is founder of Austin’s premier, offline matchmaking service called Something More. Julia is a Certified Matchmaker as deemed by the internationally recognized Matchmaking Institute. Julia and Something More have been creating happy couples in Austin since 2009. Finding people true love is her calling. For more information visit www.trysomethingmore.com
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