Entries in physical health (14)


5 Ways Relationships Affect Your Health

New research has provided more evidence that relationships affect health (read our previous posts on this subject here).1 The researchers examined data from four large-scale studies that collectively followed thousands of Americans over time. One of the studies followed adolescents, another followed young-to-mid-adults (aged 25-64), and the last two followed older adults (aged 50+), resulting in more than 14,000 participants across the lifespan. Each study measured various aspects of individuals’ social relationships, such as social support (e.g., reliability of family members), social integration (e.g., frequency of contact with other people), and social strain (e.g., frequency of criticism from friends). Each study also included health outcome measures such as blood pressure, waist circumference, and body mass. These outcomes are associated with how the body responds to stress and are predictive of disease and mortality.

Overall, the researchers found that the more socially integrated people were (i.e., the more they socialized with others and different kinds of others) and the better quality their relationships (i.e., with lots of social support and little social strain), the better their health throughout the lifespan.

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How Do Romantic Relationships Get Under The Skin? Perceived Partner Responsiveness Predicts Cortisol Profiles 10 Years Later

If someone asked me to pick the most influential finding that has come out of relationship science to date, I’d say it’s this: relationships matter for health. In 1988, House and colleagues published their classic research paper showing that social isolation is a powerful predictor of premature death.1 Since then, dozens of studies have tested and consistently replicated this link. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 148 studies (over 300,000 participants!) showed that people with stronger social relationships are about 50% more likely to survive over a 7.5 year period compared to those with weak social ties.2 This is a huge effect: it suggests that social isolation is more dangerous than a number of well-established risk factors of mortality, such as obesity and physical inactivity.

In response to these findings, many policy-makers, health practitioners, and members of the general public have started viewing social relationships not just as a nice-to-have, but as a fundamental human need. Humans simply must have close relationships in order to survive and thrive (for a more theoretical discussion about the human need for relationships, see this post). However, the issue of how relationships affect health is not as well-understood. What aspects of social relationships are particularly important (i.e., specificity), and in what way do social relationships influence the body (i.e., mechanism)? These sorts of questions about specificity and mechanism are what many researchers in the field are now grappling with.

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Got a Cold? Think Hugs, Not Drugs

Getting sick isn’t fun. To see if social support helps combat illness, researchers interviewed 406 healthy adults each day for two weeks about whether they were hugged that day. Researchers then exposed participants to the common cold and assessed participants’ mucus secretions, congestion, and antibodies present in their blood over the next few weeks. Participants who received more hugs were less likely to become infected with the cold and experienced less nasal congestion. Hugs were especially important on particularly stressful or tense days. So the next time you feel yourself coming down with a cold…think hugs, not drugs.

Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R. B., & Doyle, W. J. (2015). Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science.


Dieting With Your Partner: Competition Is Futile

After gorging on a holiday meal and leftovers recently, the Consultant and I have completely obliterated our pre-holiday dieting goals. I generally do well with controlling my food portions, which is admittedly hard to do given the fact that food portion sizes have increased 700%1 inside and outside the home over the last 30 years. During the holidays, however, I give myself license to eat a little more because the extra serving of sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie is just too good. It is just once (or twice) a year, right? The holiday meal may not have been the real problem though; the main culprit for me was likely the larger portion sizes consumed on leftovers while family was still visiting.

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What’s Love Got to Do with Weight Loss?

It's time for a snack and you're wondering what to eat, preferably something healthy as you're trying to stay fit. There may be a simple solution; research demonstrates that the simple act of looking at a friendship-based love symbol, such as a heart, can sway your appetite toward a healthy craving (e.g. an apple). Whereas looking at a sexual-based love symbol, such as a picture of a kiss mark, could lead you to giving into the Snickers bar you’ve been thinking about. As such, it may be wise to surround yourself with some heart pictures to help curb your appetite!

Raska, D., & Nichols, B. S. (2012). Using subtle reminders of love to foster healthy snack choices. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 11(6), 432-442. doi:10.1002/cb.1381

Lauren Acri is a student at Monmouth University and a Psychology major.
She is currently a research assistant in the Gender Development Laboratory investigating the role gender plays in early childhood. 


Your Relationships May Keep Stress From Killing You

Read more about stress, health, and relationships in our articles here and here.

"I Wanna Hold Your Hand"...But I Can’t

To hold or not to hold…hands, that is. When you’re in a relationship, are you a hand-holder, or do you prefer to keep your hands to yourself? Perhaps you find your hand gets too sweaty when in the embrace of another, or maybe you only hold hands seasonally when doing so will provide you with an extra bit of needed warmth in the deep freeze of January. Wherever you fall on this spectrum of loving to hold hands or avoiding it like the plague, imagine for a moment that it wasn’t up to you whether or not you could hold hands with your partner. Perhaps, if you hate to hold hands anyway, your response to such a scenario would be a sense of relief. But if you fall on the other side of the spectrum, where you love to walk hand in hand with your partner, you’re probably a bit confused and baffled as to why this simple and personal decision could be taken away from you. Such may be the case for marginalized couples, for whom PDAs may bring unwanted attention, stigma or even violence. Could avoiding PDAs have potential health implications?

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Friend and Family Approval for Relationships: Crucial for Your Health?

In my last post, I discussed the research showing that couples who receive social approval of their relationships from their friends and family are more likely to report greater relationship satisfaction and more enduring relationships. One of the key points researchers have made in this area is that it is the perception of support/approval that matters most. This means that, regardless of the actual level of support your relationship receives from your friends and family, it is your own perception of that support that most strongly influences your relationship and health outcomes.1 And yes, I did just say relationship AND health outcomes, because research has shown that not only do people in socially-supported relationships (same-sex AND mixed-sex) report greater relationship satisfaction, love, commitment and duration, they also experience fewer mental and physical health problems. That’s right; if everyone you know disapproves of your relationship and you’ve been suffering from depression, anxiety, increased stress or even more frequent physical ailments, it’s quite possible that these experiences are connected.

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More Reasons to Have Sex: Money and Health

Want to earn more money and lead a healthier life? Have more sex (correlation/causation issues aside). Not that you needed more reasons to have sex on a weekly basis, a recent study of Greek men and women found that those who reported having more sex earned higher salaries and were less likely to suffer from certain health problems. You can read more over at the Huffington Post.

Check out our articles about the psychological and physical benefits of sex here and here, respectively, and more generally about the reasons people give for having sex here.


How Gay and Straight Men and Women Influence Their Partners’ Health

Research has long suggested that saying “I do” to a significant other is similar to saying “I do” to better health.1 Married people – especially married men – report better health and live longer than single people.2,3 But marriage itself is not necessarily the reason for these differences; there are many explanations for the health benefits of marriage including increased social support, improved health behaviors by folks who are married, more positive attitudes about health by the married, as well as the benefits of having a partner to help provide health insurance.4,5 

Why are men more likely to experience health benefits in their relationships than are women?

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Paging Dr. Love

The legendary rockers of the American band KISS may not have been so far off when they belted out, “Baby, I know what your problem is...the first step of the cure is a kiss!” in their hit single, “Calling Dr. Love.” They couldn’t have known it at the time, but current relationship scientists may now agree with Gene Simmons’ medical claims. There might be a little something special to that kiss.

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The Anatomy of a Hot Dad

When we first opened the e-mail from iVillage.com, with “2nd Annual Hot Dads Contest” in the subject line, we (as fathers) couldn’t help but be flattered. Reality quickly kicked in, however, when we read the actual message and learned that iVillage was hoping that ScienceOfRelationships.com could spread the word about their Hot Dads contest (still flattering, but not quite so ego-boosting). After dusting off our egos, we did what any good relationship scientist would do: we began to wonder what makes a “Hot Dad” hot? In other words, when iVillage.com readers comb through the hundreds of photos of men on the site, how are they judging relative dad-hotness?

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Marriage: It’s Good for Your Health

Lately I have observed more and more of my friends aspiring to be like Samantha from Sex and The City – i.e., having strings of casual sex and dating relationships – instead of following the traditional notion of settling down and getting married. Well, for all those non-believers of marriage, here is a reason to change your mind: according to a new study,1 marriage is good for your health.

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Trust: It Does a Body Good

image source: reputation-communications.comTrust is good for your relationship, but does it also benefit your physical health? A sample of married, engaged, and dating couples completed surveys every six months for for two and a half years. Partners experiencing more trust in their relationships subsequently had lower depression and anxiety, which in turn were associated with enhanced mental and better physical health. Exercising trust in your relationship is good for your mind and body. 

Schneider, I. K., Konijn, E. A., Righetti, F., & Rusbult, C. E. (2011). A healthy dose of trust: The relationship between interpersonal trust and health. Personal Relationships, 18, 668-676.