With Valentine's Day just around the corner, love is in the air and the thoughts of many turn to romance and relationships. There is a growing body of research, which demonstrates many positive health benefits of long-term loving relationships. For example, a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that happily married participants had lower blood pressures than did single people. Not surprisingly, unhappily married individuals had the worst blood pressures of all. The US Department of Health and Human Services Report noted that married people enjoy better health as evidenced by a lower incidence of depression, substance abuse, fewer doctors' visits and shorter hospital stays than did their single counterparts.
Loving long-term relationships have also been shown to have beneficial effects on the immune system. A study done by Carnegie Mellon University found that people who exhibit positive emotions are less likely to get sick when exposed to cold or flue viruses. Another study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry by researchers at Ohio State University found that skin wounds healed twice as fast in couples who interacted warmly as compared to those who demonstrated hostility toward each other. Being married has been correlated with a longer life expectancy as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), married couple live longer than singles and longevity gap between the two groups has been growing over the last decade.
Although further research is needed to more fully understand the benefits of loving long-term relationships, one explanation of these benefits may be due to the beneficial effects on reducing anxiety and promoting bonding. A study conducted by researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook used functional MRI scans to look at the brains of people in long-term loving relationships. They found that couples with strongly connected long-term relationships had an increased activation in the part of the brain known as the dopamine-reward area, which promotes a general sense of well being and happiness. There was also an increase in the activation of the area associated with bonding which produces favorable results including decreased negative responses to anxiety and stress related symptoms.
A study in the Journal of Family Psychology shows that happiness depends more on the quality of family relationships than on economic status or level of income. Valentine's Day is a wonderful reminder to all of us the importance of love and affection in nurturing long-term loving relationships. An investment in building loving relationships is an investment in your health, which will result in better health and greater happiness.