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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Can love affect our health?
Answering this question is no small undertaking, but one longitudinal study underway today has managed to do just that.

This remarkable multi-million medical study started in 1939 at Harvard Medical School with 724 men in their twenties. These participants agreed to grant the researchers access to their medical records, give blood samples, undergo brain imaging, and participate in interviews every two years. Whenever possible, the men’s parents, wives and children were also interviewed. The goal of the study was to identify predictors of healthy aging. The project is still going on today, with a diminishing sample of men who are now in their nineties.

Here are some of the most interesting conclusions, drawn by George Vaillant, who directed the study for the longest period in the 75+ years that it’s been going on:

  • Love reduce[s] our basal metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and muscle tension, all of which lead to better health.
  • Love can literally heal and strengthen our heart.
  • Having had a loving and stable marriage at 50 predicted mental and physical health at 80 better than did either exercise, weight or cholesterol levels.
  • Enjoying a securely attached relationship in the 80s is protective to the brain. Those who aren’t in warm, supportive relationships at that age see their memory decline more dramatically.
  • People who are more socially connected to friends, family and community are not only happier, but also physically healthier, and they live longer.

The most amazing thing to me about this study is that Vaillant didn’t set out to study love, but he found it to be most relevant to healthy aging nonetheless. Having had the pleasure of hearing Vaillant lecture roughly 10 years ago, I vividly remember him saying,

“The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people… Full stop.”

It is clear to me that love is a complex and important piece of the bigger wellness picture. Does your programming include it? Learn how you can begin to include love in your wellness offer at my WELCOA Summit keynote on August 30 in Omaha, Nebraska.

-Marie-Josée Shaar

About the Author: Marie-Josée Shaar is one of the most sought-after experts applying positive psychology to health promotion. She was one of the first 50 people in the world to obtain a Master in Applied Positive Psychology from University of Pennsylvania. She is also certified as a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, a Personal Trainer and a Wellness Culture Coach.