You might think the benefits of love, romance and sex hardly need to be spelt out. Romance makes you wake to each new day with a starry-eyed sense of expectation. Love is the pinnacle of joy. Sex is… well sex is just great. But as if all that weren’t enough, being with a special someone has an even more powerful benefit. It really can make you live longer. Here’s why love can be the ultimate medicine, and romance an elixir as powerful as any pill.
LOVE IS GOOD FOR YOUR HEART
When you fall in love it’s often said you’ve given someone your heart. When you fall out of love it’s said that you’re heartbroken. But love’s connection to the heart is about far more than just poetry.
That’s been proved many times, most recently last year in a study by researchers at The State University of New York. It found a small but important relationship between being with the one you love and lower blood pressure. The study found that whenever we are with a loved one, our blood pressure drops. “The lowering was not a big difference, but it’s significant,” said Brooks Gump, an assistant professor of psychology at the university and lead author of the study.
It’s not the first study to show the health benefits of love, especially if you take romance to another level and get married. In one study scientists evaluated nearly 4,000 people over a 10-year period and found that married men had a 46 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than unmarried men. Why might that be? Well, it could be that – married or not – being in love means never being alone.
A Harvard University study found that socially isolated men had an 82 per cent higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those with good interpersonal relationships. The strongest interpersonal bond many men will form is with their wives or long-term partners.
Another benefit of being in a committed relationship? You get nagged. Yep, that’s a good thing, especially when your wife nags you to lose weight, eat more fruit and vegetables or see the doctor more often. In a close, loving relationship, men have someone else helping to look after their health.
...AND GOOD FOR YOUR HEAD
But long before you get to the marrying stage, dating and falling for a significant other is already a boon for your health. Romance releases a cascade of chemicals into the body that reduces stress and improves mental health.
“Love and sex release a powerful cocktail of chemicals that bond human beings together,” says sexual and relationship psychotherapist Paula Hall, author of Improving Your Relationship for Dummies. “Dopamine and oxytocin are the primary chemicals that are released when we touch and are touched and the combination gives us a huge high along with bucketloads of warm and cuddly feelings.” In other words, that loved-up sensation you’re experiencing doesn’t just feel good, it is good – for both your mental and physical well-being.
Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone because it pours into the bloodstream when positive emotions are running high. Studies at the University of California have indicated that oxytocin helps to alleviate depression-related symptoms. Earlier studies suggest that it can also help to relieve anxiety and the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Then there’s dopamine, a hormone related to the “reward” and “pleasure” systems in our brains. Dopamine has a dark side, because it can lead to addictive behaviours (like gambling and alcohol and drug addiction), but when it is released in response to love and romance it has a far more positive impact.
Scientists have found that dopamine makes us more positive and optimistic, and positive people don’t tend to suffer from anxiety and depression.
“Being in close relationships with other people is simply good for us,” says Hall. “When we share our emotions with someone else who is caring and empathic it helps us to regulate our central nervous system.
“The full explanation for this is still not known, but it’s likely that it goes back to our most basic primal needs. We know that when a newborn baby and mother are cooing and smiling at each other they engage mirror neurons that positively regulate each other’s biochemistry and it’s thought that lovers are engaging those very same pathways.”
Overall, the health-giving properties of romantic love are immense. Linda J Waite and Maggie Gallagher, authors of The Case For Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially, have calculated using American statistics that single men have mortality rates that are 250 per cent higher than married men. And while nine out of 10 married men and women who are alive at age 48 are still alive at 65, only six of 10 single men and eight of 10 single women make it that far.
THE POWER OF SEX
There’s another fundamental part of long-term loving relationships that confers huge health benefits. We’re talking about the miracle of sex. Consider a study by researchers at Queens University Belfast in the UK, for example. It’s considered one of most rigorous studies ever carried out on sex and male health, tracking more than 1,000 men over a decade.
The study discovered something remarkable. The men who had the most sex had a much lower death rate than those who had the least.
Why that might be wasn’t initially obvious, but when the same researchers conducted a separate study, they found that healthy men who have regular sex can reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke by half.
Other research confirms the remarkable health-giving properties of regular, loving sex. It has been found to reduce pain, reduce the chances of prostate cancer and boost the immune system. Truly, sex is one of the best medicines there is.
Of course, you don’t have to be in love to have sex. But contrary to popular belief, studies have found that married men have more – and more satisfying – sex than their footloose and fancy-free counterparts. Research suggests that more than half of married men are physically and emotionally content with their sex lives, compared to just 38 per cent of cohabiting men.
THE LOOK OF LOVE
What all this really does is confirm that there is such a thing as the look of romance. Men in the midst of passionate relationship shine with the healthy glow of love. Their eyes sparkle. They wear the optimistic smile of men content with the world.
And science has confirmed that love, romance and sex work on the inside too. Love is such a powerful elixir that maybe it should come as doctor’s orders: eat healthily, take plenty of exercise and try your hardest to fall head over heels in love.