09 Feb Health Benefits of Falling And Staying In Love
By Rachel Saslow Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 7, 2011
Love may make the world go ’round, but is it powerful enough to lower one’s blood pressure, reduce depression and speed the healing of an injury? With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we set out to find the answer and discovered that science says yes.
“Our relationships help us cope with stress, so if we have someone we can turn to for emotional support or advice, that can buffer the negative effects of stress,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, who has been publishing studies for the past 10 years on social relationships and their influence on health and disease.
Most studies on the health benefits of love have focused on married couples. In 2007, after reviewing research on the health effects of matrimony, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a 68-page report that found that, in general, married people are happier, live longer, drink less and even have fewer doctor’s appointments than unmarried folks.
Of course, “we all know that not all marriages are happy,” Holt-Lunstad says. Very few of the thousands of marriage studies take the quality of the union into account; “I can think of maybe seven.”
So, Holt-Lunstad set out to see what kind of links there might be between love and health, and in 2008, she identified one, in a study published that year about marriage and blood pressure. She found that happily married people have lower blood pressure than unmarried people. But unhappily married people have higher blood pressure than both groups. So, when it comes to blood pressure, at least, you’re probably better off alone than in a troubled marriage.
Loving spouses tend to encourage preventive care, reinforce healthy behaviors such as exercise and flossing, and dissuade unhealthy ones, such as heavy drinking, according to many studies. Romantic relationships also can provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life that can translate to better self-care and less risk taking, Holt-Lunstad says. (There are also practical benefits to marriage that can improve one’s health but have nothing to do with love. For instance, married people are more likely to have health insurance and be financially stable, according to the HHS study.)
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