It doesn’t take a scientist to tell us that a healthy, loving relationship can lessen our stress — but did you know it also boosts our immune system’s response and could help us live longer? Multiple studies have shown that couples in happy, loving marriages tend to have lower blood pressure. And marriage itself isn’t the actual key to a healthier life — it’s the “loving” part, researchers find.
How do researchers define a “loving” relationship? To put it simply, it depends on the couples’ own opinion. Married couples with a “high quality” (aka loving) relationship showed significantly lower ambulatory systolic blood pressure than singles. However, happily married couples and singles had lower blood pressure than people in “low quality” marriages. Which means, at least in terms of your health, it’s much better to be single than unhappily married.
How does it help your blood pressure exactly? Well, when positive events occur, the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin interact with your dopamine reward system. Vasopressin in particular helps control blood pressure.
Of course, getting into a new relationship can be a little stressful! Cortisol, the stress hormone, initially rises when you fall in love. However, it quickly drops in a long-term, stable relationship. Those low cortisol levels sustained for a long period of time contribute to many health benefits.
But how does it improve your immune system? That’s a bit of a mystery to researchers. So far, women in love have shown changes in their gene regulation of immune cells compared to women not in love. Some theorize that this is in order to prepare for pregnancy. Unfortunately, we still don’t have conclusive research on whether men in love better fight flu and other viruses, too.
High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” since it has no symptoms, but it will steadily degrade your health over time, significantly increasing your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease. And while love is certainly not the only way to lower blood pressure, it’s comforting to know our loved ones can boost our health for a longer, happier life.