Love is Key to Longevity

The quest for health and happiness is a universal goal shared by individuals of all races, religions, creeds and cultures. Through the ages mankind has searched for an elixir capable of preserving youth and extending life. 

What if the answer lies inside us and what if it has been with us all this time?

In this article, we will explore the relationship between longevity, or long life, and one’s Love Quotient. By referencing several studies across various disciplines, we will show how people with higher love quotients can expect to live longer and healthier lives. 

Love Sustains Life

A New York Times article which appeared in 1988 highlighted the work of Psychoanalysts John Bowlby and René Spitz. The article showed that touch as a form of love is necessary for infants to thrive. It discusses the unusually high mortality rate of children housed in orphanages after World War II. From the study we learn that “certain brain chemicals released by touch, or others released in its absence, may account for these infant’s failure to thrive.” It is thus extremely important for babies to receive love from their parents in the form of touch, i.e. breastfeeding, being carried, cuddled, held, rocked to sleep, etc.   

Early attachments impact our ability to learn, love and relate to others 

Bowlby later went on to develop Attachment Theory, which posits that attachment is both an innate need and critical to survival. Psychologists still reference Bowlby’s theories in encouraging physical affection as part of healthy parenting. A more recent article says, “This nurturing is necessary for the brain to learn to connect human contact with pleasure. This association is one of the foundations of empathy. We connect first through soothing touch and shared smiles.” 

The importance of continued connection

Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, says “people co-experience emotions, especially positive ones, and when they do, that’s when they are reminded in an experiential way that they are part of something larger than themselves… when we connect, a positive emotion that’s rolling through two brains and bodies at once. It’s a powerful, uplifting feeling, and it turns out to be extraordinarily healthy.”

Love is needed at all stages of life

As biological organisms who are still growing and evolving, we still need love to grow in a healthy way. A Washington Post article from 2016 discusses the findings of a study in which researchers followed 14,000 participants, capturing data on both their social lives and their physical well-being from adolescence into late adulthood. “The findings underscore the value of social ties to improving a person’s physical health, from the teenage years through the 90s and beyond.” says the article. 

In another study researchers found that “Married people were 14 percent less likely to die after a heart attack than single people. While it wasn’t clear from the study why married patients were more likely to survive, the researchers point out the importance of physical and emotional support following a major health event.” 

Yet another study has shown that social relationships impact telomere length. Feelings of ambivalence in social relationships have been linked to shorter telomere lengths. “Telomeres are the caps on the ends of our chromosomes that protect them from damage and are an indicator of aging at the cellular level. Shorter telomeres are associated with higher incidences of disease and mortality.” 

Being in healthy and loving relationships contribute towards good health at all stages of life, from infancy all the way through to old age. The studies mentioned above demonstrate that this can be measured physically by observing the differences in mortality rates and telomere length between people who have a loving support network and those who don’t. 

A key part of raising our love quotient is developing and nurturing the relationship with our inner child. When we have a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves, it leads to happier and healthier relationships with others, be it colleagues, friends, family or lovers. Because we practice self-love and self-care, we naturally bring in more love, compassion, understanding, empathy and joy to our interactions with others. 

In the next section we explore the importance of relationships on longevity more closely and discuss how increasing one’s LQ can lead to healthier relationships.   

How to Live to be Over a Hundred Years Old 

According to the United Nations, the average North American can expect to live to the age of 80. The fact that there are places where people live to be over a hundred is very intriguing and we all want to know what the secret to long life is. A 2004 study initiated by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain identified Sardinia, Italy as a Blue Zone. Dan Buettner popularized the Blue Zone concept. In collaboration with National Geographic, he examined some of the world’s longest lived cultures to identify common factors that contribute to health and longevity. 

Pes and Poulain’s study verified that Sardinia, Italy is one of the regions with the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. Dan Buettner expanded on the work of Pes and Poulain identifying five blue zones; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. 

Buettner attempted to understand why people in these five blue zones lived unusually long lives. He identified nine habits that contribute to a long life. People in blue zones move naturally, they have a sense of purpose and methods to downshift or release stress, their diets are largely plant based, they eat until they are 80% full and drink one to two glasses of wine at “happy hour”. 

Here is where it gets really interesting… people in blue zones also have a sense of belonging or community, they put their loved one’s first and have friends who encourage healthy behaviors

Three of the nine behaviors that contribute to a longer life are based on human connection and healthy relationships

Other Studies Show Similar Results

In 2017, the Harvard Gazette published an article examining an ongoing Harvard study that began in 1938 and tracked 268 Harvard sophomores to determine what factors lead to healthy and happy lives. As of 2017, only 19 of the original cohort are still alive and in their 90s, but later, the study was expanded to include the subjects’ offspring, who eventually numbered 1,300 and were in their 50s and 60s in 2017. 

The researchers “studied the participants’ health trajectories and their broader lives, including their triumphs and failures in careers and marriage.” The findings show that “our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.” In addition, the study revealed that “close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.”

Louis Cozolino, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, takes a similar position. In his book “Timeless: Nature’s Formula for Health and Longevity” Cozolino writes “of all the experiences we need to survive and thrive, it is the experience of relating to others that is the most meaningful and important.” Cozolino says that the human brain is wired for interpersonal connection and therefore, a “life that maximizes social interaction and human-to-human contact is good for the brain at every stage, particularly for the aging brain.”

Cozolino’s earlier book, “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships,” discussed that “people who have more social support tend to have better mental health, cardiovascular health, immunological functioning, and cognitive performance.” The article also states that “social relationships help calm our stress-response system” because they lower the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to “wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health.”

How can increasing one’s LQ lead to healthier and happier relationships? As we increase our love quotient, we love ourselves more and thus we have more love to give. Approaching life and relationships from a place of love leads to better relationships and less stress, two of the biggest factors in improving life expectancy and disease prevention. 

Love Can Change Our Brains

Building on attachment theory and the foundation laid down by Bowlby and his peers, experts today believe that adults whose bond with their mother/permanent mother substitute was disrupted or deficient are susceptible to adult attachment issues and poor health. 

The good news is that it is believed that these issues can be redressed. 

“I believe that it is possible for us to undo some of this damage as adults through lifestyle choices and changes in mindset and behavior.” says Christopher Bergland, world-class endurance athlete, coach, author and public health advocate. 

According to the UK based Thrive Approach which is grounded in scientific developments in neuroscience “the neural pathways of the brain and wider nervous system are relatively unformed at birth, undergoing much of their development during the first three years of life in response to relational experiences with primary care-givers… research has also revealed the inherent ‘plasticity’ of the brain–its capacity to forge new neural connections in response to experience.” 

It is never too late to give ourselves the love and attention that we need and crave. The ‘I love you’ practice which is encouraged as part of developing one’s LQ addresses the needs of our inner child. When we incorporate the ‘I love you’ practice and other practical self-love steps, we heal past wounds and increase our internal love supply. We also forge new neural pathways which impact the way we relate to ourselves and others. 

How LQ can Improve Longevity

When we approach life from a framework of self-love and self-care, we tend to prioritize our health more often. Our perspective on the things we do changes. We now see things such as working out or eating healthy as an act of self-love. We may previously have experienced these things as a burden, but when our perspective around them changes, they become much easier to sustain, in fact they can become enjoyable and can be seen as an expression of self-love. 

Self-love includes all of those things we do which are good for us such as maintaining a balanced diet, exercise, allowing ourselves leisure time, getting enough sleep and meditation. These are some of the healthful habits a high LQ individual may cultivate. 

When we are increasing our LQ, we tend to make choices more often which are kind and loving to ourselves. This is a helpful question to ask ourselves in cultivating our LQ and self love… “Is this the most kind and loving thing I can do for myself”. 

People with high LQ’s have better relationships. Because we have loved ourselves deeply, we have so much more love to share. Our relationships automatically improve as we operate from greater places of love. Not only does this affirm our identities, who we are and the life choices we make, it also allows for more frequent moments of happiness and connection, i.e. the moments which shape our lives. The support we receive from our networks make the tough times easier to bear and the good times sweeter to savor. Connection, affirmation, community and belonging have all been proven to increase longevity. 

The heart is the physical manifestation of love. 

While the heart’s biological function is to pump blood through our bodies, it is also considered to be the physical place from which love stems and the place where love is received. 

We often associate the heart with love. Ever use the expression “what a heartwarming story” to show that something you heard has made you feel good or how about he/she has a “broken heart”?

It is no coincidence to learn that so much of longevity, so much of life itself is tied to love. Our hearts keep us ticking so to speak, and when the heart stops, the body is left lifeless. We could say that life begins and ends with the heart, in more ways than one. 

Love is the energy of life and the key to longevity!