We’ve all heard some version of the phrase “Love heals all wounds”. And while this line might sound a little corny, there’s actually more truth to that statement than you might think. As it turns out, love really does have the power to heal us from the inside out.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s dive into the science behind exactly why love is so important for your health and how you can cultivate more lovely health benefits.
Loneliness: The Silent Epidemic
We’ve all felt the pang of loneliness at some point in our lives. But when feelings of loneliness and social isolation become a constant part of life, it can take a disastrous toll on your emotional and physical health.
Loneliness has been linked to:1
- Chronic inflammation
- Immune system dysfunction
- Cardiovascular disease
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased cortisol levels
- Increased reactivity to stress
Loneliness has even been associated with a 26 percent increase in the risk of premature death – making loneliness on par with cigarette smoking in terms of risk of mortality.2 While the physiological effects of loneliness are serious and even deadly, it doesn’t end there. Loneliness is also a major risk factor for suicide – which has sadly been reflected by a huge jump in suicide rates in recent years.
Loneliness truly is a silent killer in more ways than one. So what’s the antidote to the deleterious effects of loneliness? The answer is unconditional love.
The Healing Power Of Unconditional Love
Love quite literally has the power to not only heal but to also have a positive impact on your overall health and longevity.
- Studies have found that couples in happy, loving relationships have significantly faster wound healing times than those lacking love in their lives.3
- Cultures that prioritize social connections (like regular family gatherings) and feelings of love are some of the healthiest and longest-living populations on the planet. In fact, having loving healthy relationships predicts a 50 percent increase in longevity.4
- Chronically ill patients that have a strong loving relationship with God, have a 40 percent more positive perception of their health than those without a strong connection to spiritual love.5
There’s no denying that giving, receiving, and feeling love is a potent form of medicine. But what exactly is love? Love is an emotional and mental state of being that encompasses a wide range of thoughts and feelings:
- It’s the strong romantic love you feel when you embrace your spouse
- It’s the parental love you feel when you look at your children
- It’s the joy you feel when you get a phone call from an old friend
- Or it can even be as simple as the pleasure of enjoying a delicious bite of your favorite dessert
Love encompasses all feelings of kindness, compassion, affection, and feelings of goodwill towards others, yourself, and life in general. It’s not just about the number and depth of relationships in your life, but also about the attitude with which you move through life. And this attitude creates a distinct physiological response that triggers some incredible health benefits.
The “Love” Hormones and How They Affect Your Well-Being
When you experience loving thoughts, you set off a response that releases a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters. Two of the most notable “love” hormones and their health-boosting effects are oxytocin and dopamine.
Oxytocin is also known as “the love hormone” or “the cuddle chemical.” It’s the trademark neurotransmitter released when we experience feelings of love. It’s the hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy and attached to the people and things we love. But oxytocin has many positive effects on the rest of your body by:6,7
- Reducing cortisol levels (cortisol is the signature stress hormone)
- Lowering blood pressure
- Increasing pain thresholds
- Promoting growth and healing
- Improving memory
- Promoting sexual health
- Preventing neuroinflammation (which protects your brain)
So, as you can see, oxytocin gives us a lot more than the “warm fuzzies”, it positively affects our entire wellbeing.
Dopamine is known as the “feel-good hormone” because of its mood-boosting effects. Dopamine’s feel-good effects stem from its association with pleasure. When we anticipate or experience something pleasurable – like spending time with loved ones or enjoying a batch of fresh-baked cookies, we get a hit of dopamine. Besides giving us temporary feelings of euphoria, dopamine also:8
- Improves memory and learning
- Boosts motivation
- Decreases inflammation
- Promotes healthy sleep
- Increases bone strength
- Prevents Parkinson’s and other movement disorders
- Improves sexual health
In this way, dopamine’s positive effects are worth cultivating more pleasurable experiences in our lives.
How to Cultivate More Love for Improved Life and Longevity
Love is a state of being, not just the intimate head-over-heels in love you have with your partner. Actively and intentionally seeking, giving, and experiencing love creates an upward spiral – the more you love life, the more life loves you back. So here are some simple ways to cultivate more love in your everyday life.
Reach out to family and friends and engage in real-life connections – not just text messages or phone calls. Regularly connecting with others face to face is crucial for developing the deep meaningful relationships we all seek.
Whether it’s re-connecting with old friends or meeting new and interesting people, there are endless ways to create more frequent and meaningful encounters in your life. You just have to be intentional about your actions. Get off your phone and connect with people in real life more. Schedule time with friends and family. It takes a little more attention, but it’s so worth it.
Tell Others How You Feel
Tell people you love them. Show your appreciation when someone does something kind. Give compliments freely. Expressing and giving love, gratitude, and kindness is one of the very best ways to cultivate more love in your life.
And this goes the other way too. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek support or let others know you need them. Being vulnerable and seeking connection in times of need can strengthen bonds and provide you with the love and support you need.
Participating in selfless giving and generosity is not only a powerful way to create more love in your life, but it also has some potent health benefits. Studies have found that altruism is a strong predictor of a longer lifespan.9
Whether you’re giving time or money when you sincerely strive to help others, it turns out you reap the benefits as well. It’s just like the old saying, “what goes around comes around.” When you practice generosity, I think you’ll find more of it coming your way.
Physical touch releases the “love hormones” and makes us feel good. Any form of positive physical affection can give you a boost, whether its:
- Holding hands
- Or even petting your dog
Try to find ways to intentionally incorporate more physical touch in your life.
Meditate and Pray
Meditation and prayer are powerful ways to feel more connected to yourself and to God. Taking time to cultivate a deeper relationship with yourself and a higher power is one of the most compelling forms of love.
Meditation and prayer literally have the capacity to rewire your brain and help you create a happier, more love-filled life. If you need help getting started with meditation, head over to my article: Be Happier & Less Anxious With 7 Minutes A Day.
The food you eat is the foundation for the neurotransmitters and hormones your body needs to feel good. In fact, new research is revealing just how influential our diets are to our mental health. Scientists are finding specific connections between gut health and brain health that could even change how we treat mental illness.
In the meantime, eating a well-rounded and healthy diet will help your body maintain balance, and produce hormones and neurotransmitters properly. Plus, actively loving and appreciating your physical body by treating it well is an excellent way to practice “self-love”.
Commit to a Life of Love
Love truly is medicinal. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day,, I challenge you to commit to cultivating more love in your life. Not just on February 14th, but every day. The benefits of a love-filled life are endless and will pay off physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Now it’s time to hear from you? Are you surprised to hear that love really does have the power to heal? How do you plan to cultivate more love in your life?
The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease state or medical condition and has not been evaluated by the <a href="https://www.fda.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FDA</a>. This is not intended to replace any recommendations by or relationship with your physician. The references included in each article allude to the level of scientific rigor I have applied to my writing. When changes become apparent we will update the information if appropriate.