Love is healthy. You can feel it. When you fall for someone, your skin glows, your libido purrs, you've got energy to burn. Conversely, research confirms, loneliness and a lack of intimate, supportive relationships put us at risk for cardiovascular illness and premature death. Does that make marriage a hedge against mortality?
Indeed, one study showed that wives live longer, mostly because of the improved economic status that marriage tends to bring. A more recent study, however, contradicted it, raising eyebrows by suggesting that never-married, educated women have the longest, healthiest lives. What we know for sure is that a loving relationship is good for your body, and a violent, abusive, or contentious relationship is bad for it, according to LLuminari, the team of 15 top health experts who are shaping up our bodies, minds, and spirits.
We also know that intimacy boosts the immune system, reduces anxiety, and acts as a buffer against depression, while separation—heartbreak, divorce, a miserable single life—can all bump up stress-hormone secretions. "The anxiety of uncertainty takes a toll," says Marianne Legato, MD, founder of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University. "Blood pressure rises, and we become prone to infection."
As women, we seem to be wired to register love's twists and turns with exquisite sensitivity. Our emotional hypervigilance helps us find mates and maintain relationships, but it also means we pay a penalty when things go wrong, says Legato. A woman who has had chest pain or a heart attack is nearly three times more likely to have a second cardiac event if she is experiencing marital stress, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Even in a happy partnership, the down times are harder on women's bodies than on men's. Research on newlyweds shows that when there are struggles and quarrels, the wife's immune system becomes more imperiled (increasing the risk of colds and infections) than the husband's.
Fortunately, relationship trouble doesn't have to make you physically ill. "It's when we feel hopeless, helpless, and defeated that stress levels stay elevated and health is affected," says Pamela Peeke, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. With that in mind, our LLuminari experts suggest how to take full advantage of love's medicinal benefits, and how to protect yourself in its absence.
If you're...so happy together
If you're...desperately seeking someone
If you're...staying at the Heartbreak Hotel
If you're...stuck in a bad relationship
We Hear You!