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Love: the healing and health benefits of family & friends

Find out more about the health benefits of love 

7 July 2016
3 minute read

couple sitting on branch together

“Your love is like bad medicine…” sang Bon Jovi. It turns out, however, that love is actually pretty good medicine. And while romantic love might leave you feeling like you’re walking on sunshine, it’s not only romantic love that’s beneficial. The love of your family, friends and even your pets can be good for you.

Most of us have been in love at one time or another, and it’s a fantastic feeling. But it’s not just a feeling. According to the US’s National Longitudinal Mortality Study, which has been following over a million subjects since 1979, being in a committed, loving relationship correlates to living a longer, healthier life.

Love is also good for your heart – no, not the sort you draw on your Valentine’s Day card – the actual organ. A study in the American Journal of Medicine, which collected data for 10 000 men, concluded that those who felt ‘loved and supported’ by a partner had a reduced risk of angina. Meanwhile, a study from San Diego State showed that women in good marriages had a much lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than those in non-supportive or stressful relationships.

So if you’re in a committed relationship, nurture it – keep the romance alive, and the relationship healthy and you’ll be helping your heart in the long run.

But if you’re not in a relationship, you need not fear. The support of family and friends is just as good for you, and may even stave off disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. A review study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry looked at a variety of long-term studies done in the area of dementia and found that a higher degree of social connectedness may have help to protect against the development of dementia.

Good friends may help you to live longer.

Good friends may help you to live longer too. An Australian study followed nearly 1 500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with fewer friends by more than 20%.

Why? One of the theories is that good friends may keep you from doing things that are bad for you, like smoking and heavy drinking. Friends and a strong social network can also help to ward off depression, boost your self-esteem, and provide support when you’re going through a tough time.

So if you want to reap the health benefits of friends and family connections, ensuring that you pay attention to your social life is crucial – even if you’re an introvert. It doesn’t have to be an enormous party: a coffee with a close friend can be enough to give you a sense of connection and support.

One area where support is crucial is when you’re suffering from a critical illness. A 2005 study of people with ovarian cancer found that those with lots of social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive cancers, which made their chemotherapy treatments more effective. In another study, women with breast cancer in a support group lived twice as long as those not in a group, and they had much less pain.

And if the humans in your life aren’t playing their part, Fido and Felix can keep you healthy. Spending quality time with a dog, cat or other animal can calm you and help you to fight stress.

The most obvious way they do this is by getting more active – particularly if you have a dog that requires walking often, or a game of fetch in the park. Dog owners also have lower blood pressure than people without dogs.

Petting a dog or cat is also soothing and can help your body to release calming hormones. Pets even help you to connect with other people – dogs especially. People will often talk to perfect strangers in the park because the dog helps to break down social barriers.

If you have children, owning a pet can reduce your kids’ risk of getting allergies and asthma, and ideally they should be exposed to pets from before the age of six months. The theory is that being exposed to allergens – in other words, allowing them to get dirty – helps to build their immune systems. Also, in the elderly, a pet can help to reduce loneliness and give older people something to live for.

The bottom line is that when it comes to your health, love may not be all you need, but it can go a long way towards boosting both your wellness and longevity.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.

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