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Spending time with a romantic partner can improve your health

A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reveals that spending time with a romantic partner is good for your health, even if that time together is spent asleep. 

The research was focused on a protein that is found at higher levels in the blood when inflammation is present in the body. 

Inflammation is a natural and vital part of the body’s immune response to injury or infection. However, when inflammation becomes chronic or excessive, it can be indicative of poor health.

Focus of the study

“Social relationships are an important driver of health, and inflammation has been proposed as a key neurobiological mechanism to explain this effect,” wrote the study authors. 

“Behavioral researchers have focused on social relationship quality to further explain the association, yet recent research indicates that relationship quality may not be as robust a predictor as previously thought.”

“Here, building on animal models of social bonds and recent theory on close relationships, we instead investigated merely being in the physical presence of one’s romantic partner. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that spending more time co-present with a loved partner in everyday life would be associated with lower C-reactive protein.”

How the research was conducted 

For the investigation, the experts recruited 100 people in romantic relationships. 

Over the course of a month, the participants provided blood samples three times. During each lab visit, the individuals reported on how much time they had spent in the same physical space as their partner in the previous 24 hours

What the researchers learned 

“Results from multi-level models showed that when one reported spending more time in the physical presence of their partner they had lower CRP – an effect that was independent from social relationship quality explanations from the prior literature, including romantic relationship quality, hostility, and loneliness,” wrote the researchers.

“These findings move past global assessments of social isolation to consider a novel everyday behavior that is of great interest in the non-human animal literature – spending time together – as a potential mechanism linking high-quality relationships and physical health in adult humans.”

Study implications 

According to the Mayo Clinic, a high level of CRP in the blood has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. Elevated CRP over a long period of time has also been linked to health issues such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.

“For the first time to our knowledge, we showed that simply spending more time in the physical presence of a loved partner was associated with lower levels of CRP the next day,” concluded the researchers.

Health benefits of having a romantic partner

Engaging in healthy romantic relationships can offer a range of emotional, psychological, and even physical benefits. For example, the support of a romantic partner can lead to decreased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body.

Heart health

Some studies suggest that being in a committed relationship or being married reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Mental health

Romantic relationships may also act as a buffer against depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. The companionship and emotional support provided by a partner can be a source of comfort.

Immune function 

Some research suggests that happily married individuals or those in stable relationships have better immune function compared to those who are single or in unhappy relationships.

Pain relief

The comfort and physical touch provided by a romantic partner can release oxytocin, which can act as a natural painkiller.

Improved healing

The emotional and psychological support from a partner can enhance the body’s ability to heal faster after injury or surgery.

Better habits

Being in a relationship might encourage healthier habits such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and reduced substance abuse, as partners can motivate and hold each other accountable.

Longer life

Some studies have found a correlation between being in a romantic relationship and increased lifespan. The reasons might be related to improved mental and physical health and stronger social networks.

The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

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