Here’s a reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day early this year: Love gives you energy, helps you stay fit, eases stress, and more
Love makes us human. It sounds almost unbearable cheesy, but according to new science, it’s kind of true—from an evolutionary perspective, at least. Homo sapiens may have developed feelings of romantic love as a means of encouraging them to pair off, which made raising kids and staying alive and healthy easier, posit New Zealand researchers in Perspectives on Psychological Science. And managing those family bonds required more brainpower, which may have led to greater intelligence and teamwork. While some other animals couple up in similar ways to humans, most don’t, so it’s possible that love is one of the missing links that helped us evolve from ape to us. But in order to persuade our less-evolved ancestors to share responsibilities (and food) with another person, love had to have some pretty huge benefits—like the nine listed here.
When you’re in love, you’ll take any excuse at all to daydream about the object of your affections. And here’s a great one: doing so will boost your energy, according to research in the journal Psychophysiology. The study authors tested participants’ blood glucose levels before and after they thought about their partners, and found that they experienced a boost at 10 and 25 minutes after. Try it when you’re feeling sluggish after lunch or you need a bump during a hard workout. (Ask the Diet Doctor: Energy-Boosting Foods.)
Sure, in your early days of dating, you might skip at the gym in favor of spending time with your new guy or slack off your diet thanks to those extra dinner and dessert dates. But when you’re ready to get back to it, your significant other can help you do it. Couples who diet or exercise together have a better chance at long-term success than those who go it alone, according to a new study from University College London. It makes sense, right? After all, it’s harder to clean up your diet when your guy is chowing down on all your old favorites in front of you. Plus, he may be more forthcoming with his support when he feels your pain. (Is Your Relationship the Reason You Can't Lose Weight?)
When you’re hurt, you often turn to people close to you for comfort. But even if you’re separated from your SO, pulling up his snapshot can ease the ache. Looking at a picture of someone you’re in love with can blunt pain by up to 40 percent, according to a study in PLOS One. That’s because gazing at your SO’s photo activates the reward centers in your brain, which may trigger the release of natural opioids.
Even not-so-great times with your guy have their benefits. Researchers from Ohio State University College of Medicine used suction cups to give married couples small blister wounds, then watched them fight. Those who worked out their issues in a more loving, supportive way had a healthier immediate immune response than more hostile pairs. As a result, their wounds healed about 60 percent faster.
While you might think that cuddling with your significant other (or close friends) would increase your chances of getting sick, those hugs seem to trigger your body’s built-in defenses to germs. In research from Carnegie Mellon University, people who reported hugging others more often experienced less severe cold symptoms than their less-cuddly peers. (Here are five other ways to Stay Cold- and Flu-Free.)
As much as we love love, looking at other couples acting all cuddly can be kind of annoying (especially when we’re not in a relationship at the moment). But seeing others being affectionate or caring to each other can actually tamp down on your brain’s fight-of-flight response to threatening stimuli—like, in one study, an image of an angry or fearful face, research shows. (So, a better stress fix than eating comfort foods.)
When you’re in love, you tend to view everything through rose-tinted glasses, including your own wellbeing. People in long-term relationships rate their own mental and physical health as better than those who aren’t, a University of Missouri study found.
Married men and women have a 24 percent lower risk of early death than singles, according to a review of several studies in the American Journal of Epidemiology. But romantic love is only one way to lengthen your lifespan: Any kind of strong social support can also help reduce your risk of mortality, research in PLOS One shows. (Check out these Healthy Living Tips from Death Experts.)