Love, sex and friendships can bring some positive health benefits.
Some scientific studies suggest that a loving relationship, physical touch and sex can bring health benefits such as lower blood pressure, and that emotional and social support can boost our sense of wellbeing.
Sex is good for your heart
Anything that exercises your heart is good for you, including sex.
Sexual arousal sends the heart rate higher, and the number of beats per minute reaches its peak during orgasm. But as with most exercise, it depends how vigorously you do it. Some studies show that the average peak heart rate at orgasm is the same as during light exercise, such as walking upstairs.
Having heart disease doesn't have to hold you back in the bedroom. Experts advise that you can usually have sex as long as you can do the everyday activities that have the same impact on your heart without causing chest pain, such as walking up 2 flights of stairs.
While sex can help to exercise your heart, you'll still need other ways to keep your heart healthy. It is recommended adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.
A hug might be good for blood pressure
Embracing someone special might help to lower your blood pressure. In a small experiment, couples who held each other's hands for 10 minutes followed by a 20-second hug had healthier reactions to subsequent stress, such as public speaking. The huggers had a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure compared with couples who rested quietly without touching.
Sex can be a stress buster
Sex might help people to cope with stress, according to a small study of 46 men and women.
Participants kept a diary of sexual activity, recording penetrative sex, non-penetrative sex and masturbation. In stress tests, including public speaking and doing mental arithmetic out loud, the people who had no sex had the highest stress levels (as shown by an increase in blood pressure). People who only had penetrative sex had the smallest rise in blood pressure.
People often find that intimacy or orgasm helps them feel relaxed, as does exercise or meditation.
Weekly sex might help fend off illness
There may be a link between how often you have sex and the strength of your immune system. A US study found that students who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of an important illness-fighting substance called immunoglobulin A (IgA) than those who had no sex.
More research is needed before it can be proved that weekly sex helps your immune system.
People who have sex feel healthier
While people who feel healthier may have more sex, there could also be a link between sexual activity and wellbeing. A study of 3,000 Americans aged 57 to 85 years showed that those who were having sex rated their general health higher than those who weren't.
Love and support may also help you feel healthier. People who were in a close relationship or married were more likely to say they felt in 'very good' or 'excellent' health than just 'good' or 'poor'.
But a life without sex is no bar to excellent health. A long-term study into the health and ageing of a group of nearly 700 older nuns found that many are active and well into their 90s and past 100. While the researchers found some links between lifestyle and dementia (for example, higher education or positive emotions in early life might cut the risk of dementia), they found this wasn't linked to sexual activity.
If you are having sex, make sure you are using protection such as a condom which will protect you and your partner against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy.
Loving support reduces risk of angina and ulcer
A happy marriage may help to prevent angina and stomach ulcer — at least it can if you're a man.
One study of 10,000 men found that those who felt 'loved and supported' by their spouse had a reduced risk of angina. This was the case even if they had other risk factors, such as being older or having raised blood pressure.
Similarly, a study of 8,000 men found there was more chance of them getting a duodenal ulcer if they:
- had family problems
- didn't feel loved and supported by their wife
- didn't retaliate when hurt by colleagues. (In other words, they repressed their anger. Researchers called this their 'coping style'.)
Friendship is healthy too
Spending an evening with friends is good for your health too.
A 10-year study of 1,500 people over 70 years old found that those with stronger friendship networks lived longer than those with fewer friends. Researchers thought this could be due to friends having a positive influence on lifestyle choices, such as smoking or exercise, and offering emotional support.
Last reviewed: October 2018