8 Scientific Benefits of Love
One of the best descriptions of love comes from the 1998 movie Practical Magic, when Gillian (a witch played by Nicole Kidman) tells her nieces, “You ever put your arms out and spin really, really fast? … Well, that’s what love is like. It makes your heart race. It turns the world upside down.”
Aside from that feeling of disorientation, love can also have some pretty great perks—like mental and physical benefit to our bodies. Here are eight aspects of life that get a boost when our hearts are full.
1. Love helps you live longer.
You know that giddy, high-on-life feeling you get when you’re totally smitten with someone you’ve just started dating? Or the satisfying comfort of a long-lasting partnership? Those emotions may help you live longer. A 2017 study in the journal American Psychologist (reported by the Washington Post) found that if you’re in a happy, committed relationship, you have a 49 percent lower all-cause mortality risk. Researchers attribute the bump in longevity to a couple things. First, happier people tend to end up in relationships more often. Second, partners have a tendency to nag each other to have healthier habits, such as eating a more nutritious diet or getting better sleep. Finally—a good use of nagging!
2. Love can improve your cardiovascular health.
That nagging can have heart-healthy benefits, too. For a study in the JAMA Internal Medicine March 2015 issue, researchers set out to see if each half of a couple would be more likely to make positive health changes, like quitting smoking and increasing physical activity, if their partner does too. About half (48 percent) of men and 50 percent of women decided to quit smoking once their partner did. Two-thirds of both men and women kicked up their physical activity after their partner did the same. Research has shown that putting down the smokes and exercising more are two important ways to improve cardiovascular health.
3. Love may lower your blood pressure.
Being in a relationship can be stressful, but if you’re happily in committed coupledom, some of that stress will naturally melt away. And that often leads to lower blood pressure. A 2018 study in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that this effect on blood pressure is unique to people in relationships. The study measured blood pressure differences when a couple was speaking to each other, versus when they were speaking to someone else. In most cases, happily coupled people had lower blood pressure when chatting with just one another. These results echo those of a similar study done in 2001—blood pressure was lower during partner conversations, likely because the conversations themselves were more focused on intimacy and emotional support.
4. Love is linked to better mental health.
Lower blood pressure has another great effect, too: reducing anxiety and depression. Another Annals of Behavioral Medicine study showed that when a couple has a happy partnership, they’re calmer. While this doesn’t mitigate the chemical imbalance of clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, it does seem to soften the blow of stress across the board. Researchers believe the mental benefits here are due to the satisfaction and support happily coupled people receive. The study also pulled in the effects of other social relationships and found that a relationship partner still made the biggest difference.
5. Love might lead to better sleep.
When your heart is happy in a relationship, the effects can last years—not just while you’re in a couple. At the University of Minnesota, researchers wanted to see if good relationship experiences led to better sleep later in life. They interviewed 112 people when they were 23 about their relationships, and then interviewed them again when they were 32 about both relationships and stressful life events. Five years later, those same people discussed their quality and quantity of sleep. While sleep quantity didn’t seem affected, the researchers found that those who had happier relationships when they were 23 had better quality sleep at 37. They also saw fewer stressful events in their lives.
6. Love may decrease pain.
People often refer to love as a drug—and a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found that the areas of the brain affected by love and drugs have a pretty big overlap. Both light up the dopamine centers in our brains, causing effective pain relief. Basically, if you’re in love, you’re likely to be in less pain than you would be otherwise. In the small study, researchers had college-age students bring in photos of the person they loved. The researchers then used computer-controlled thermal simulators to cause pain in the participant’s hand. When the participant looked at the pictures they brought, the pain significantly reduced. It was almost as effective as painkillers.
7. Love can boost your immune system.
If you’re in love, you probably won’t get as many colds. Over a year, researchers from Tulane University and UCLA monitored a group of 47 women who were in new romantic relationships. They had regular blood draws and completed questionnaires to measure the immune system response to love. Essentially, feelings of love regulated the genes in the immune system, and when there was more love, people had fewer colds. Interestingly, the change in immune system genes also happens when the body is preparing for pregnancy.
8. Love helps you heal.
In addition to the immune system boost, being in love can also help you heal. A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that couples happily in love had their wounds resolve faster than those in unhappy relationships. Thirty-seven couples were given blister wounds on their forearms for the study. Then they were instructed to interact with one another. When the couples interacted with more positivity, the blisters healed more quickly than the ones on the couples who had less positive interactions.