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Can love lead to a healthy heart?

We celebrate 14th February and express our love and romantic interest which for many of us infatuated types may not be reciprocated. Look out for our blog on stress and the heart! The origins of Valentine’s day date back to the early Christian period honouring Saint Valentinus. The wider expression of love and exchange of gifts became more widespread in the 19th Century to evolve into the industry that we know it today.

Nothing conjures up so much emotion as the heart. And emotions can affect the heart like no other organ. Having a positive attitude has been proven to be associated with a lower risk of heart attack and a speedier and better recovery after a cardiovascular event. Love itself has been shown to have a number of positive effects on heart health.

One study found that people who spent time with their romantic partners experienced a greater dip in blood pressure compared to those who spent time with a stranger. When you embrace in a hug with a loved one, be it a parent, child, or spouse, research from North Carolina has shown that this can lower blood pressure.

Holding hands with someone you love has a calming effect on the body. Researchers recruited happily married couples and placed each woman in an MRI scanner, preparing her to feel a mild shock to the ankle. Even though the women were anxious, feeling their husbands’ hands during the scan reduced brain activity associated with anticipating pain. The study also found that a stranger’s touch provided comfort, but less so than a spouse. The positive effects are thought to be due to the hormone oxytocin the so called “feel good” hormone.

Research has found a link between mental stress and atherosclerosis which is the cause of coronary artery disease that leads to narrowing of the heart arteries. Arteries themselves can constrict and expand in a dynamic fashion. Constriction of an already narrowed blood vessel can be a mechanism for compromise to the heart’s blood supply which can lead to a heart attack. Laughter can lead to expansion or dilation of blood vessels. In a study, participants were asked to watch segments of either a funny movie or stressful movie on separate days. The stressful film caused vasoconstriction, or narrowing of the blood vessels, while the comedy caused the vessels to expand. In fact, the benefit was considered to be quite significant and the magnitude of change in the endothelium (blood vessel lining) after laughing was consistent and similar to the benefit you might see with aerobic exercise or statin use.

Expressing love can also be beneficial. In two randomized, controlled trials healthy college students who spent 20 minutes writing about their affection for loved ones (friends, relatives, or partners) experienced drops in total cholesterol while students in the control group, who wrote about random topics, did not. Show me love!

Love truly makes the world go around and helps the heart keep healthy.