Love is life’s best medicine
Research has shown time and again that having social connections is essential to our overall health and well-being. A person that has love in their life — whether it be romantic or through family and friendship — is generally happier, healthier, and may even live longer.
But why? Having supportive people in your life helps you face adversity, including health challenges, and can even mean you’ll be less likely to get sick. And if you do develop a medical condition, knowing a loved one or support system is there for you can be an important factor that helps you cope better and recover faster.
Estela Wajcberg, MD, a primary care physician at Summit Health, explores the positive associations between love and health. “When you have love in your life, you feel happier and experience less depression and anxiety,” she explains. “This is due to various hormones and neurotransmitters or messengers in the brain being activated to release dopamine — also called the happy hormone — which results in boosting one’s mood and feelings of well-being.”
Love impacts the heart, mentally and physically.
Individuals in committed relationships have been shown to have lower blood pressure and heart rates. A study from the American College of Cardiology also found that people who are married had a reduced risk for heart attacks when compared with individuals who are single, divorced, or widowed.
Love leads to better self-care.
“Being a caregiver or having the encouragement of someone in your life helps you take better care of your own health and make healthier decisions,” says Dr. Wajcberg. “These individuals often feel inspired or encouraged to make positive lifestyle modifications, follow medical advice, and schedule preventive tests.”
Love reduces anxiety and stress.
Studies that observed brain activity using an MRI scan found that people who are in committed relationships may have less anxiety. The scans also revealed that these same individuals show increased brain activity in the areas related to reward and pleasure. In contrast, MRI scans of individuals who were not in a relationship were generally found to have higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. “People who feel ongoing stress are more likely to suffer from health issues over time,” explains Dr. Wajcberg.
Love lowers the risk of addiction.
Remember those happy hormones? Romance causes the body to release dopamine. Studies show individuals with higher levels of dopamine are at a decreased risk of drug addiction and are less likely to feel sad. Marriage also tends to lead to a decline in heavy drinking and substance abuse.
Love can help reduce physical pain.
They say love is all-consuming. Feeling passionate can also provide pain relief that may be as effective as taking medication. It all comes back to hormones. When the brain releases dopamine, it impacts a person’s perception of pain.
Love promotes immunity.
“The idea of feeling secure and loved tends to boost the immune system and reduce the chance of catching infections,” explains Dr. Wajcberg. “And even better: Those who have a loving support system also tend to recover more quickly from an illness.”
Love may lead to a longer life.
Studies have found that close relationships, above anything else, are what keep people happy and healthy throughout their lives. Ties to friends, family, and community help protect people from hardships and delay both mental and physical decline. A happy marriage or relationship has also been linked to a longer life expectancy.
February is American Heart Month. Take some time to spread love to your partner, family, friends, and community. Spend time cuddling, give a compliment, send thoughtful notes, or simply say ‘I love you.” Love may be the best medicine — and expressing it can have a positive impact on the health and well-being of both you and your loved ones.
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