We don’t need science to tell us that love makes us happier, but thanks to a new body of research, it’s clear that a healthy relationship is good for your physical well-being.
Love sounds like a magic bullet: A healthy relationship can make you happier, live longer, age more gracefully, reduce stress, improve mental health, reduce pain, prevent a heart attack, improve your sleep and heal faster, according to Business Insider. Skeptical? Let’s look at some of the research.
Married people live longer. Numerous studies demonstrate a link between romantic relationships and a significantly longer life span. We are social animals, so a lack of relationships, especially close, intimate ones, poses a tremendous health risk. In fact, researchers at Brigham Young University report that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The heart of the matter
The heart is a symbol of love, so let’s look at some specific health issues involving this vital organ. A study by researchers at the University of Arizona revealed that a supportive, healthy relationship reduced the mortality rate for people suffering from congestive heart failure. A study by researchers at Emory and Rutgers universities found that married people who had undergone heart surgery were three times as likely to survive the next three months than unmarried patients. Finally, a study from the University of Chicago on high blood pressure showed that loneliness had a serious negative effect independent of age, gender or ethnicity.
What about cancer, the other major cause of death? It’s pretty much the same thing. The incidence of cancer, as well as survival rates for those diagnosed with various types of cancer, shows that being married provides significant benefit. There have been many studies exploring the specific ethnicities and gender with regard to cancer types. A study by University of Indiana researchers of 3 million cancer patients found that 10-year survival rates were approximately 37 percent for separated patients, compared to 58 percent for married patients. A study on invasive breast cancer by UC San Diego researchers reported in a study of 150,000 cases that unmarried women were 1.28 times more likely to die than married women.
What about immune response and communicable diseases? Love boosted the effectiveness of influenza vaccinations, producing a significantly greater immune response among seniors who were both married and reported marital satisfaction, according to University of Birmingham researchers. There are other similar studies on influenza vaccine immune response reported by UC San Francisco and the World Health Organization.
Now let’s turn to healing. Ohio State University researchers wanted to know if happy couples heal faster. They administered small skin blisters to 42 married couples ranging in age from 22 to 77. All couples were asked about recent marital conflict. For those couples reporting recent conflict, their wounds took longer to heal – 60 percent slower – than those who were conflict-free.
How about the perception of pain? Love can reduce our perception of pain, according to one remarkable study that used real-time MRI imaging of the brain. In this study, 16 married women were told that during an MRI scan they might receive an electric shock on their ankle. While in the MRI, women held hands with either a stranger or their husbands. Both the MRI scans and the women’s subjective reports showed that those holding their husband’s hand felt less pain. The amount of pain dropped dramatically for women reporting the happiest of relationships.
Science continues to prove that love is the most effective survival strategy for humans. We are wired to be in loving relationships from cradle to grave. We survive and thrive when we are secure in a loving relationship. It’s a scientific fact proven repeatedly in a growing body of research.
Nancy Andersen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provides Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples as well as serving individuals in her Loyola Corners office in Los Altos. For more information, call 833-9574 or visit nancyandersenmft.com.