The Influence of Relationships on Physical Health: Exploring the Connection ,The relations choose not only to affect your mental health. The stress or happiness they cultivate also affects your long-term and short-term physical health.
Researchers are finding that the quality of our relationships with our partners, family members and friends can be as important, and in some cases more important, to human health than habits such as smoking, diet, exercise and drinking alcohol.
Humans are social creatures designed to work together toward a common goal, and as a result, our well-being is closely tied to these ever-important interactions.
What is a healthy relationship?
According to Rosie Schroutassistant professor of human development and family sciences at Purdue University, a healthy relationship can differ in what it looks like from person to person.
In general, however, relationships thrive when couples have open communication, can handle stress well together, and are responsive to their partners’ thoughts and feelings.
“Good couples may even become stronger when times get tough,” says Schraut.
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Health benefits of a good relationship
A large body of research shows that the quality of our relationships affects several health outcomes, he says Hui Liuprofessor of sociology and director of the Family and Population Health Laboratory at Michigan State University.
A March 2023 study published in the journal Social psychology and personality science tracked 4,005 participants who checked their blood pressure, heart rate, stress, and coping every three days while providing ratings of their relationships.
“People with more positive experiences and less negative experiences [in their relationships] reported lower stress, better coping, and lower systolic blood pressure reactivity, leading to better physiological functioning in daily life,” the study authors wrote.
Moreover, in the United States, marriage is linked to other important health outcomes that are unrelated biological stress. For example, our access to health insurance, benefits, tax write-offs, housing, and other important outcomes are good for our health.
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Toxic relationships and your health
The other side of the coin is this poor quality connections have the opposite effect. “Negative relationships cause stress and strain on the body and can increase the risk of cardiovascular events, chronic disease, and can cause early mortality,” says Liu.
Shrout’s research showed that couples who were more negative and hostile in their daily interactions had increased cardiovascular reactivity, immune response, higher inflammation, as well as higher cortisol levels. Now researchers are trying to discover how this directly affects health outcomes.
“We know that relationships have a strong influence on longevity, and we are now trying to distinguish biological markers that can promote and exacerbate health and health problems,” says Schraut.
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Social connections and health
Although Shrout’s research has primarily focused on relationships between couples, she says the quality of our social network, such as family members and friends, can also affect health.
A September 2021 meta-analysis published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology examines the public health impact of loneliness on the individual and society. According to the study, loneliness causes the activation of physiological and endocrine responses that “compromise the normal functioning of relevant organs and increase the risk of disease and mortality.”
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How to have a healthy relationship
How do you know if your relationship is so toxic it’s time to get out? Schraut says research shows that happily married people live longer and happier lives than single, widowed or divorced people. And that not all bad relationships are lost causes.
Couples counseling is a powerful tool for improving relationships and opening the lines of communication between couples. It helps strengthen relationships and as a result improves physical health.
But just as a positive relationship is good for your health, a constantly hostile one is the opposite. Staying in a toxic relationship to avoid loneliness isn’t what the doctor ordered either. If the relationship is hostile and negative most of the time, it probably affects the body in a hostile and negative way.
After all, “the quality of the relationship is the most important part, not just the marital status,” says Schraut.
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