All you need is love,” sang the Beatles. When one considers the widely documented health benefits of being in a happy relationship, they might have been on to something. In this spotlight, we take a look at the health reasons for celebrating being with someone.
Research has demonstrated a myriad of health benefits – physical, mental and emotional – associated with being in an affectionate relationship.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, many people fortunate enough to find themselves in relationships will be preparing for a day of celebration. The health conscious may look at boxes of chocolates and meals in restaurants warily, but it is worth remembering that outside of these indulgences, a wealth of health benefits have been identified for people in relationships.
Many will be aware that sex is a form of exercise, increasing the heart rate and reaching an average peak at orgasm comparable to forms of light exercise, such as walking upstairs. It is also fine for people with heart disease to have sex, so long as they can still do equivalent activities (such as walking up two flights of stairs) without experiencing chest pain.
Outside of this, though, several other health benefits arise from being in a relationship. And being in a loving relationship is not simply a bed of roses; different types of relationship have their own effects. We investigate.
Put a little love in your heart
The heart is one of the most conspicuous symbols of love, and perhaps it is unsurprising that love is associated both literally and figuratively with one the most important organs in the human body. With February being American Heart Month, it seems prudent to examine the less obvious benefits to the heart first.
Research has indicated that being in a satisfying relationship can lead to improved survival rates after coronary bypass surgery – an aggressive treatment for heart disease. The effects of satisfaction were reported to be just as important to survival as traditional risk factors, such as obesity and tobacco use.
This finding may have been due to happy relationships encouraging healthful behavior, such as quitting smoking and keeping fit.
Less active displays of intimacy than sex can also be beneficial to cardiovascular health. One study found that couples holding hands for 10 minutes followed by a 20-second hug had healthier reactions to a public speaking taskTrusted Source than participants who merely rested quietly.
The couples that had brief warm social and physical contact exhibited lower heart rates, lower blood pressure and smaller increases in heart rate, with results comparable for men and women.
“These findings suggest that affectionate relationships with a supportive partner may contribute to lower reactivity to stressful life events,” write the authors. The implication from the study is that affectionate relationships could be related to better cardiovascular health.
Hypertension can be dangerous, leading to serious conditions including heart failure, stroke and heart attack. Research has also found that it can increase the risk of cognitive decline later in life. However, lowering blood pressure is not the only aspect of being in a relationship that benefits cognitive functioning.