Love is an important part of life. Anthropologists say it has existed across cultures and throughout human history. Some scientists have even proposed a biological component to falling in love. There is some evidence of this—hormones such as oxytocin and PEA that are activated by, among other things, interactions with romantic relationship partners, for example—but love is also a mental state, a set of actions, and a social phenomenon. Additionally, it turns out love, as well as being an important part of life, can have a significant impact on a person’s health.
For one thing, being in a relationship can help lessen stress. Sometimes relationships are a source of stress, but a healthy relationship means a less stressful life overall—though studies have found that unhappily partnered people have higher blood pressure than people in happy relationships or single people. On top of that, being in love can help spur wound healing. Injuries in coupled people healed an average of one full day faster than singles. People’s partners also seem to encourage healthier habits and preventative care, and discourage substance abuse.
There are downsides as well. Love can hamper attention, according to studies. People in love is not a mental illness, at it is sometimes facetiously called, but people in love do seem suffer impaired cognitive abilities. Scientists tested people who had been in relationships for six months or less on the ability to separate out relevant from irrelevant information, a common task to test cognitive ability and attention. The newly partnered people performed worse on this task than others. Previous studies found, however, that in longer relationships, the ability to ignore distractions is essential to the health of the relationship. Thinking about a new partner—male or female, men and women alike—seems to use mental resources that would otherwise be devoted to these tasks.
In the long run, though, being in love is an overall improvement. Even kissing can help make people healthier. Kissing burns calories; not as many as other forms of exercise, but those aren’t as much fun. Kissing helps lower blood pressure, fights calories, and even helps with headaches.