Did You Know? Relationships Can Boost Immunity Too!
- 6 Mins Read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Dr. Jatin Bhide
Health benefits of being in a relationship
The four determinants of health include genes, environment, diet, and lifestyle. Consider these as pillars of your life. If you are not sick and do not require healthcare or support, you are considered healthy. Our environment includes our relationships and social connections.
Scientists are exploring the health benefits of our social ties and happy relationships. In today’s fast-paced life, continuous build-up of stress in our body adversely affects functions of the heart, brain, gut, and immune system. When we bond with others, our body is relieved from harmful levels of stress. Empathy and caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones and improve our health.
To know more about health determinants, read ‘Stay smart stay immune.’
What is the formula for a healthy life?
Most suggestions feature diet, physical exercise, and lifestyle. The Harvard study, almost 80 years old, showed us the alternative solution, a path less taken. The study proved that our social life and relationships determine the quality of our lives. The findings highlight that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health.
Physical maintenance of our body is critical, but tending to relationships is indispensable for a healthy life. One of the most pertinent results of the Harvard study suggests that solid relationships usually sideline money and fame and keep people happy throughout their lives. Robert Waldinger, one of the study directors of the Harvard study quoted, “Loneliness kills! It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Our social connections and integration in the family and community protect us from life’s miseries. This delays the process of aging-the inevitable mental and physical deterioration. The strength of our marital bonding is a better predictor of long and happy lives than intellect, social standing, or even genetics.
Importance of healthy relationships in maintaining health
The quality of our relationships is a critical determinant of our health and overall quality of life. One study demonstrated that women in highly satisfying marital relationships pose a lower risk for heart disease than those having conflicts in their marriages.
Other studies have validated those unhappy interactions with family and friends lead to poor health outcomes. Marital conflicts may reduce immunity in couples and increase their disease risk. The risk of dementia was found to be lowest in the elderly Swedish population having a solid network of friends and relatives with significant social support.
Social support and caregiving impart health benefits to both- the giver as well as the receiver. Maintaining happy relationships is not only the easiest health strategy to access but is also cost-saving and does not require any specific location, infrastructure, or regimen.
Tips on maintaining good relationships
1. Maintain equality towards your female counterparts
Education has empowered women to be socially, economically, and politically liberated. Hence, it is high time that men acquire the skill to positively acknowledge the equal status of their female counterparts.
Cultures across societies emphasize women to be more submissive and subdued. When women assert themselves, they are labeled aggressive; if they disagree, they are called rude. In any form of relationship, men need to understand that the dimensions of power and control are changing globally.
So, accept when your wife disagrees with any family decision. Accommodate an upfront remark from a female colleague. Such behavioral transitions may convey feelings of respect, appreciation, and affection in your marital and professional relationships.
2. Contempt ruins your relationship
Contempt harms marriages because it harbors negative emotions and encourages more conflict. People in unhappy relationships become susceptible to infectious illnesses—flu, colds, and so on—than people in happy relationships. Contempt feeds on your immune system and health; admiration and humility are the recommended medicines for your well-being.
3. Instill respect and affection in your relationships
Show respect, irrespective of your age, towards your spouse, siblings, parents, elderlies, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Express interest in the story your partner tells you at dinner, pay your parents compliments on their achievements-small or big, listen to the ideas your sibling has to offer, spend some quality time with your grandparents, and the possibilities and the joy are never-ending.
4. Value small moments of attachment and intimacy
Healthy relationships are not just about fighting, understanding, and resolving conflicts. A relationship grows on affection, mistakes, humor, adventure, intimacy, playfulness-all are positive emotions that are common to mammals.
The most trivial moments are the highly opportune ones to strengthen your bonding. For example, while preparing dinner with your spouse, play a silly game. Have some fun together, get intimate, and make it a beautiful memory. Such moments are transient, trivial, but significant. When compounded, such small moments build trust and connection in your relationships. Read more about this on ‘Sex on the menu: Go, get some!’
Invest resource, time, and energy in your relationships. Loneliness is easy to achieve, and more convenient is to find isolation in work, but it will have repercussions on your health and quality of life. So actively pay more attention to your relationships and nurture them with affection, empathy, and care.
- Mineo L. Good genes are nice, but joy is better. The Harvard Gazette. Published April 11, 2017. Accessed November 8, 2021. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/
- Yang YC, Boen C, Gerken K, Li T, Schorpp K, Harris KM. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(3):578-583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112
- House JS, Landis KR, Umberson D. Social Relationships and Health. Science. 1988;241(4865):540-545. doi:10.1126/science.3399889
- Gallo LC, Troxel WM, Kuller LH, Sutton-Tyrrell K, Edmundowicz D, Matthews KA. Marital Status, Marital Quality, and Atherosclerotic Burden in Postmenopausal Women. Psychosom Med. 2003;65(6):952-962. doi:10.1097/01.PSY.0000097350.95305.FE
- Argyle M. Is happiness a cause of health? Psychol Health. 1997;12(6):769-781. doi:10.1080/08870449708406738
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Marriage, divorce, and the immune system. Am Psychol. 2018;73(9):1098-1108. doi:10.1037/amp0000388
- Sörman DE, Rönnlund M, Sundström A, Adolfsson R, Nilsson LG. Social relationships and risk of dementia: a population-based study. Int Psychogeriatr. 2015;27(8):1391-1399. doi:10.1017/S1041610215000319
- Diane Coutu. Making Relationships Work. Harv Bus Rev. Published online December 2007. Accessed November 10, 2021. https://hbr.org/2007/12/making-relationships-work