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February 13, 2017

Kiss Your Valentine: 5 Surprising Health Benefits of Love

by John Hastings

In the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, you get loads of reminders to let your significant other know just how much you care. But don’t let that be the only time you show your appreciation -- after all, he or she is practically saving your life, according to an analysis by researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina. After reviewing 148 studies involving nearly 309,000 people, they found that good relationships (with a spouse, caring friends or relatives) can cut your risk of a premature death by half. That’s strong protection – the kind you’d get from, say, giving up cigarettes.

So buy flowers and chocolate for Valentine’s Day, says Shari Bernstein-Meyer, LCSW, a Northwell Health therapist, but make sure you connect with your partner daily throughout the year. “All the small gestures you make add up to a stronger bond,” she says. “Making coffee, seeking eye contact, touching a shoulder, showing care, respect, and affection -- all of them strengthen your relationship.” And that pays off for both of you in sometimes surprising ways:

1. Less stress

Sure, your relationship might be a source of angst at times (bills, chores and whose turn is it to walk the dog, anyway?), but a solid connection with a loved one is actually a potent stress reliever, says Ms. Bernstein-Meyer. Researchers at the University of Chicago measured stress hormones in business students before and after the volunteers completed a timed test of their economic knowledge. People who were married or in a stable relationship showed a much smaller jump in levels of stress hormones, the researchers found.

2. Stronger immunity

How nice would it be to have extra protection from the cold and flu bugs making the rounds this winter? Your spouse can offer just that, explains Ms. Bernstein-Meyer: “Research suggests that people who are single or in an unhappy relationship tend to have a weaker immune system than people in a happy relationship,” she says.

3. Lower blood pressure

“One of the health benefits that reliably shows up in research on relationships is that a good one lowers blood pressure,” says Bernstein-Meyer. Those feel-good hormones can help relax arteries, dropping your blood pressure and making it easier for your heart to pump blood throughout your body. Over the long haul, that means less wear and tear on your blood vessels, which can prevent a variety of health problems.

4. A healthier heart

Many of the benefits of a harmonious partnership – such as less stress and lower blood pressure -- also protect your heart. In addition, people in stable relationships are more likely to follow their doctors’ advice, studies show. And men, in particular, tend to have healthier behaviors if they’re married – eating better than their unmarried counterparts, for instance, and smoking less.

5. Better mood

It’s not exactly surprising: Being loved and showing love is good for your emotional well-being. A number of studies show that marriage reduces the risk of suffering symptoms of depression, says Ms. Bernstein-Meyer. A happy marriage cuts anxiety, too – in fact, one study that delivered a mild electric shock to volunteers found that happily married women felt much less apprehension if they simply held their husbands’ hand as they waited to be zapped. The bottom line, according to Ms. Bernstein-Meyer: “If you have someone to turn to for emotional support, your mood and your outlook improves.”