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Love and Life

07/14/04 12:00AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(Host) There is a factor in healthy aging that is important, but seldom discussed. Commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz says that it can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.

(Schwartz) Social isolation is a threat to our health. It's right up there with smoking, high blood pressure and a sedentary lifestyle. Love and happy relationships provide proven, long term medical benefits. Studies show that we are four times more likely to feel good about ourselves and our lives if we have close friends or family, or both. Close relationships are the most important factor in life satisfaction.

It's easy to see how both physical and mental health are influenced by our network of loved ones - our partner or spouse, our children, siblings and parents, our friends. Our inner circle can influence positive behavior of all kinds. Our spouse can remind us to stick to a medical regime. We might get out and exercise each day because our walking group is waiting for us. We protect our children with seatbelts and wear them ourselves to provide a good example.

Social support can also provide protection from certain diseases. It can lower stress hormones which cause disease. Expressing love and feeling love create powerful healthy influences on the body.

Brian Baker, a University of Toronto psychiatrist looked at ten years of studies relating to marriage and heart health. His findings showed that those in good marriages had thinner hearth walls, meaning lower blood pressure, than those who were not. Positive marital interactions is also said to boost immunity and reduce risk of heart disease by keeping stress hormones low.

Romantic love can lead to fewer colds and white blood cells that more actively fight infections, according to research at the Menninger Clinic. It can reduce the level of lactic acid in the blood and increase energy. Love can actually raise the level of endorphins in the body, reducing pain and providing a sense of euphoria.

Whether or not it is part of an intimate relationship, love is a bond with family, and a tie to friends and community. It allows us to receive nurturing and care, but it also makes us more capable of giving care to others. And people who care for others often benefit by forgetting their own problems and achieving a more positive mental outlook and a higher sense of life satisfaction.

Strong social networks contribute to our mental health by improving our self esteem, providing a positive outlook, and offering ways to cope with grief, stress, and past mistakes. They help us to develop resiliency and the flexibility to deal with life's problems. Caring for our relationships and maintaining a strong social network goes hand in hand with caring for our bodies. Because giving and receiving love makes life happier, it may actually make it last longer too.

In East Dorset, this is Mary Barrosse Schwartz.

Mary Barosse-Schwartz is a freelance writer who is researching and writing a book on healthy aging with her physician husband. She spoke from our studio in Manchester.
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