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Mercy Women's Care at St. Anne
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Toledo, OH 43623

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Love, Intimacy and Health

separator Lovebirds die soon after their mates do. Animals who are separated from their herds tend to languish and usually die before their time. Humans aren't so different. Study after study shows that the quality of our relationships affects our health. There's evidence that people whose spouses have died are at higher risk of death themselves in the first six months after the loss.

We place a great deal of importance on relationships. We analyze out own, read about celebrities, fantasize about dream weddings. In February, it's hard to avoid this thinking during the build-up to Valentine's Day.

Some people try to dismiss the importance of Valentine's Day. "It's just a holiday created by Hallmark to make money." If that were true, why have we latched onto it so strongly? Maybe because we inherently know that close relationships influence our state of mind and our health. It's not just a hunch. Science bears this out.

  • 1,400 men and women were shown to have at least one severely blocked coronary artery. After five years, 50 percent of those who were unmarried and did not have someone close to talk to had died. Those who were married but did not have a close friend had the highest survival rate.

  • Last year, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that people who were not satisfied with their marriages had increased blood pressure readings.

  • A study began with 8,500 men with no history or symptoms of stomach ulcer. The men answered questionnaires about the love and support they received from their wives. The men who said, "My wife does not love me" had almost three times as many ulcers as those who said their wives were loving. Men who reported a low level of love and support from their wives had twice as many ulcers.
It's not just about romantic love

A romantic partner, life partner, spouse, whatever you like to call it, is surely a primary relationship for most people. But other types of human connection play a role in health as well. Connections with friends, parents and neighbors are important.
  • A study published in 1997 showed that people without close social ties were four times more likely to get a cold after intentional exposure to the virus than people who had a wide variety of close friends.

  • A Harvard study that followed 126 healthy men for 35 years, starting in 1952, asked whether participants would describe their relationships to their mothers and fathers as very close, warm and friendly, tolerant or strained and cold. Participants also had to describe their mothers and fathers, and researches counted the number of positive or negative words the students used. Among the findings,
    --All of the participants who said their mothers and fathers were low in warmth and closeness had diseases diagnosed in midlife.
    --Only 47 percent who rated their parents high in warmth and closeness had diseases diagnosed in midlife.
    --95 percent of students who did not use a lot of positive words and who rated their parents low in warmth and closeness had diseases diagnosed in midlife
    --Only 29 percent of those who used a lot of positive words and rated their parents high had diseases diagnosed in midlife
Who's there for you?

When you know how importance the human connection is to your health, you can make choices to do something about it. Take a look at your situation and make an honest assessment.
  • Are there people you share your deepest thoughts and feelings with?
  • Is there someone who would drive you to the hospital if you were sick?
  • Do you regularly get together with friends?
  • Is there someone who would take care of your children if you got sick?
If you have a lot of "no" answers, then now is the time to start forming those all-important connections.

Archives of Internal Medicine 2000;160:3453-3458; T. Blakeslee. The Attitude Factor: Extend Your Life by the Way You Think. HarperCollins, London. 1997; D. Ornish. Love and Survival. HarperCollins, New York, 1998; Journal of the American Medical Association, 227(24):1940-1944, 1997.
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