A loving partner, happy family, close friends and supportive co-workers: These relationships don’t just make us happier. They also make us healthier. Numerous studies have illustrated the health benefits of relationships. People with strong support systems live longer, get sick less often and stay mentally sharper as they grow older.
But what is it about our loved ones — and our interactions with them — that boosts our physical and mental health? Here are six things we do with friends and family that improve our lives.
Whether you’re having a rough day, saying hello to a close friend or simply want a moment of closeness with someone you love, sharing a hug is good for you. Recent studies show that hugging boosts the brain’s production of oxytocin (also known as “the bonding hormone”). This increases your levels of feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine, while decreasing stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine.
As a result, your immune system gets a boost, helping you ward off colds and other illnesses. Oxytocin also helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure, reduces depression and anxiety, and improves your pain tolerance.
We all get irritated sometimes, but many of us tend to avoid confrontation and bottle up these frustrations. This can lead to stress and anxiety and can even increase the risk of dying young. That’s why it’s important to have strong enough relationships with loved ones to feel comfortable speaking our minds and engaging in hard conversations.
Sharing a Home
Living with your partner leads to better heart health. Several scientific studies have found that couples who share a home have fewer risk factors for developing heart disease. One study found that these individuals are less likely to have heart attacks than those living alone and are more likely to survive if they do.
Having someone to confide in helps your health too. Keeping secrets can be hazardous to your health, causing you to feel mentally and physically weighed down, while increasing your anxiety levels. Having people you trust enough to confide in literally unburdens you, while also strengthening those relationships.
Skin-to-skin contact, such as holding hands, sends signals to an important nerve bundle deep in the brain called the vagus nerve, which slows down your heart rate and decreases your blood pressure. And, much like hugging, holding hands decreases stress hormones while increasing oxytocin, making you feel more connected to the other person and boosting your overall health.
Making Each Other Laugh
You’re having a bad day at work, until a colleague sends you a link to a funny YouTube video. You’re stuck in traffic and stressing about running late, until your kid cracks you up from the back seat. Laughter, it turns out, is the best medicine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing increases your endorphins, alleviates tension, boosts your immune system and relieves pain. While you could certainly find funny content online or watch a comedic movie, isn’t it so much more fun to share a laugh with someone you love?
How do relationships enrich your life? Let us know by commenting below.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.