The Beatles were on track when they sang “All you need is love,” especially when it comes to maintaining your health. We’re not talking about the passionate throes of romantic love with all its stressful ups and downs, but instead, the deep ties of a committed relationship. When you feel a loving connection, you’ll be more likely to….
BAN THE BLUES: Studies link social isolation to higher rates of depression, while committed partnerships are responsible for a happier and longer life. Studies also show a good partnership contributes to a decline in poor habits such as heavy drinking and drug abuse.
HAVE LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE: That’s the conclusion of a study in the “Annals of Behavioral Medicine.” Researchers found happy couples had the best blood pressure. One caveat: Unhappily married participants fared far worse.
REDUCE ANXIETY: After all these years, you may daydream about a new romance, but when it comes toanxiety, a loving and stable relationship wins the prize. Researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook used functional MRI (fMRI) scans to look at the brains of people in love. They compared passionate new couples with strongly connected long-term couples. According to the report presented at the Society of Neuroscience, in long-term relationships there was activation in the brain’s area associated with bonding and less activation in the area that produces anxiety.
FEEL LESS PAIN: In a study of more than 127,000 adults, long-term couples were less likely to complain of headaches and back pain. And that’s not all. When researchers subjected 16 married women to the threat of an electric shock, those women holding their husband’s hand showed less response in the brain areas associated with stress.
HAVE BETTER BRAIN HEALTH: The give-and-take of a relationship may help ward off mental decline. A Swedish study reports living as a couple in midlife is linked to a lower risk for cognitive impairment (unusually poor memory and mental functioning) during old age. Other research shows that regular social interaction, such as getting together with friends, belonging to a club, or doing volunteer work also helps maintain brain vitality.
GET FEWER COLDS: Loving relationships may also give the immune system a boost. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that couples who exhibit positive emotions towards one another are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses. The study, published in “Psychosomatic Medicine,” compared couples who were happy and calm with those who appeared anxious, hostile, or depressed.
HEAL FASTER: Can the power of a positive relationship even make flesh wounds heal faster? It looks that way. Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center gave couples blister wounds. The wounds healed nearly twice as fast in partners who interacted warmly compared with those who demonstrated a lot of hostility toward each other. The study was published in the “Archives of General Psychiatry.”
Robin Westen is ThirdAge's medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. Her latest book, co-authored with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, is "V Is For Vagina."