You already know that being in love is a magical and exhilarating feeling. But did you also know there are a slew of health benefits, too? Whether you’re just crushing on someone, navigating the murky waters of courtship, or are blissfully coupled up, being head over heels does your mind and body good. So read on to learn the scientifically proven reasons you should get out there and find someone special. Hooray for love!
Health benefit #1: Love can keep you slim
Ever notice how you have no problem passing on dessert when you’re in love? Or how suddenly, you don’t have a hankering for potato chips at 9 p.m.? Sure, it may be because you’re too busy spending time with your sweetie, but it’s also because your body is constantly pumping out a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. This in turn produces adrenaline (responsible for those, Will he call? Does she like me? Where is our relationship going? moments), which suppresses your appetite. “This explains why people usually lose weight when they start dating somebody,” says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love and chief scientific advisor for Chemistry.com. Plus, since all that dopamine is keeping you alert, you’re less likely to fall victim to late-night junk-food cravings. Also, chances are, you’re motivated to hit the gym more often in order to look and feel your best.
Health benefit #2: Love can improve your memory
If you often can’t remember which day American Idol is on but you can easily drum up the name of your sweetie’s best friend in kindergarten, you are not alone. Scientists at the University of Pavia in Italy found that falling in love raises levels of a hormone that improves memory by triggering the growth of new brain cells. “The area of the mind that stores recall is activated [when you are in love]. From an evolutionary perspective, we need to remember traits about this person to help stay in love,” says Dr. Fisher. Sure, you’re probably spending a good amount of time reminiscing about last night’s great date, but since this hormone boosts your brain power, you’re becoming more focused and detail-oriented overall.
Health benefit #3: Love helps boost your mood
So the sky looks a little bluer, you smile at everyone who crosses your path, and life just seems great! What’s going on here? Smitten folks are consistently cranking out a brain chemical called dopamine, a feel-good stimulant that’s responsible for those feelings of bliss, optimism, and patience. “When you’re dating someone you’re crazy about, you’re operating on a constant euphoric high,” says Redford Williams, M.D., Director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University. “You have increased energy, which makes you excited to discover different hobbies, eat new foods, and you are easily thrilled by the smallest things.” What’s more, this mood boost lets people who are in love handle physical pain better than single folks. “It’s not that dopamine lessens discomfort, but if someone in love stubs his or her toe, that person’s able to brush it off more easily than someone who’s not,” says Dr. Fisher. Another happy factor: Infatuated people produce a surplus of a chemical called oxytocin (also known as the “bonding hormone”). This endorphin spreads a kind of warm, internal flutter throughout the body when it’s released during touch, cuddling or physical intimacy. And that feels pretty darn amazing!
Health benefit #4: Love helps you look younger
Your rosy cheeks aren’t just the fleeting flush of new love — people in happy relationships look physically younger than those who aren’t hit by Cupid’s arrow. Why? All that feel-good oxytocin coursing through their veins triggers the release of DHEA, an antiaging hormone that triggers cell restoration in the body. And hitting the sheets often contributes to that youthful glow, too. When clinical neuropsychologist David Weeks conducted a study on 3500 people who looked young for their age (all had fast metabolisms, smooth complexions, and good muscle tone), an active, physically intimate, monogamous relationship was the constant factor in their lives.
Health benefit #5: Love can make you live longer
Good news for people who love and feel loved in return: they live longer and healthier lives than their single counterparts, according to research conducted at Utah State University. The study’s authors attribute a person’s lengthened lifespan to high self-esteem from his or her partner’s positive feedback, which lowers the odds of depression. “In addition, people adopt safer behaviors when they’re coupled up,” says Dr. Williams. “For example, you’re less likely to risk your life with smoking, binge drinking, or dangerous eating habits if a loved one is depending on you.”
What’s more, getting physical with your sweetie helps ward off deadly diseases. When scientists at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania surveyed people about their love lives and assessed the strength of their immune systems, people who reported one or two monogamous encounters a week had 30 percent more immune-boosting antigens than those who were celibate. “Our research shows that people in loving relationships have 1/3 the death rate of single people,” says Dr. Williams. “Having a romantic support system protects the body from developing high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which causes heart disease.”
So are you ready to reap the health — and other benefits — of being in love? Get out there and meet someone special. Sign up for some classes, update your online profile with new pictures, tell friends you’d like to be set up — and let love enhance your life!
Elise Nersesian is a freelance writer based in New York. She has contributed to Health, Redbook and other national publications.