Valentine's Day may get a bad rap as a greeting card holiday, but at the heart of it (no pun intended), it's an opportunity for us to be reminded of the loving relationships in our lives, which have a real and lasting impact on our health and well-being.
Factors like having a supportive community as you grow up, a secure job that you can rely on, or family that you see regularly make a big difference in determining both the quality and the quantity of your years, said Dr. Dean Ornish, M.D., author and HuffPost's medical editor. In other words, love makes you happier, but also healthier and long-living. However, maintaining these sorts of close relationships often goes unrecognized as a health behavior, he said.
"I believe that the need for love and connection and community is a fundamental thing ... as basic of a need as food, air and water," Ornish told HuffPost.
Conversely, people who feel lonely, depressed and isolated are more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a strong sense of connection, community, and love in their lives, he added.
Ornish wrote in his 2008 book "The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health":
A fully committed relationship allows both people to feel complete trust in each other. Trust allows us to feel safe. When we feel safe, we can open our heart to the other person and be completely naked and vulnerable to them -- physically, emotionally and spiritually. When our hearts are fully open and vulnerable, we can experience profound levels of intimacy that are healing, joyful, powerful, creative and intensely ecstatic. We can surrender to each other out of strength and wisdom, not out of fear, weakness and submission.
But don't just take his word for it. Here is some of the latest research on the key factors for a lasting relationship, and the healthy benefits of love: