Inflammation is linked to poor health and disease. We have known for quite some time that certain behaviors harm our health by spiking our inflammation levels—things like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking.
More recently, research has found that negative emotional states can have deleterious effects on our physical health as well. Things like anger and toxic stress can lead to heart issues. And social isolation, which we are currently experiencing at epidemic levels across the globe, has been associated with heightened inflammation as well.
In fact, loneliness was found to be as detrimental to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
What about the reverse? Does time spent with others, in particular with our romantic partner, bolster our health?
That’s the question that researchers set out to explore. While previous research has found strong healthy relationships to be correlated with better health and increased longevity, the studies have tended to focus on the quality of the relationships, rather than simply time spent with one’s partner.
In a study in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill social psychologist Sara Algoe and colleagues investigated what the impact of time spent with one’s romantic partner would be on the individual’s health. In other words, would there be any health benefits of simply being in the physical presence of our loved one?
Effects on Inflammation
The researchers surmised that spending more time with one’s significant other on a daily basis would be correlated with lower c-reactive protein (CRP), a common marker of inflammation.
One hundred study participants, who were in a romantic relationship for at least six months, were brought into a lab and asked to report on three different days across one month the number of minutes they spent in physical proximity with their significant other in the past 24 hours.
Next, Algoe and her team measured the CRP of the participants through blood samples they collected with finger pricks. They found that those who had spent more time with their romantic partner in the prior 24 hours had lower CRP, as they hypothesized.
Simply Spending Time Together
While further research is needed, the findings are promising. The evidence suggests the cumulative effects of simply spending time with our loved one, whether we are laughing together, cuddling, or sitting silently together, can lead to better health.
In conclusion, there appears to be a number of things we can do to improve our physical health. In addition to practicing the tried-and-true triumvirate of healthy habits—eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, engaging in regular exercise, and avoiding smoking—it may be beneficial to add to this list spending more time with your romantic partner. You may not only feel better by being together, but may become healthier together as well.