Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rod McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
As someone who’s (relatively) newly engaged, I know the happiness that love brings. Surely, that happiness must also mean good things for a person’s health? Inquiring Valentine’s Day minds want to know!
Dr. McEver Prescribes
At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, we don’t have a research program in love studies. But if we did, we’d probably start our research with a close proxy to love: marriage.
In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an extensive report on the health effects of tying the knot. It found that married folks generally report higher levels of happiness, live longer and drink less than their unmarried counterparts.
Now, I’m fortunate to have been married to an incredibly supportive spouse for nearly 40 years (we’ll mark that milestone in June!) A 2008 study found that while happily married people have lower blood pressure than single people, unhappily married people actually have higher blood pressure than both groups.
Sometimes, it seems, a lonely heart may prove healthier.
Scientists have used magnetic resonance imaging to analyze the brains of those struck by Cupid’s arrow. They found that long-married couples and those who’d just fallen in love both had activation in the dopamine system, the brain’s reward center. But, interestingly, the newly head-over-heels also lit up in areas of the brain associated with anxiety, obsession and tension.
If that finding stresses you out, a hug from your fiancée might help. Research from the University of North Carolina found that hugging and holding hands release the hormone oxytocin, which lowers the levels of stress hormones in your body.
And if — I mean when — you get married, you can look forward to a rather unexpected benefit: faster wound healing. No, I’m not kidding. A study of married couples at Ohio State University found that supportive discussions increased the rate at which blisters recovered.
Still, from a health perspective, it may turn out that the greatest love of all is friendship. An analysis of almost 150 studies found that strong connections to friends, family, neighbors and colleagues are as beneficial to your life expectancy as quitting smoking — and better than exercise.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email email@example.com and your question may be answered in a future column!