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How Love Benefits Your Heart Health

Exploring the Science Behind Love's Cardiovascular Benefits

Valentines Day

Loving and being loved is obviously important for our emotional well-being – but plenty of research also finds clear links between love and better heart health. For Valentine’s Day, we took a closer look at the facts that research presents. What does the data reveal about the connection between love, social connections to others and our heart health? Research suggests that marriage, romance – even the occasional hug here and there can have significant cardiovascular benefits. What experts know as broken heart syndrome shows the opposite effect: People who undergo an extremely stressful physical or emotional event, such as the death of a loved one for example, can develop a disorder that affects the heart muscle, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome.

For Better or For Worse

Many studies looking into marital status and heart health find better overall cardiovascular health and longer lifespans among married couples compared to the unmarried, regardless of whether they are single men or women. Other research supports these findings, showing that married men and women have a longer life expectancy than their unmarried counterparts, providing additional evidence for the protective effect of marriage.

In general, married people are about 52 percent less likely to die within four years of a cardiovascular event than unmarried individuals. But do you need to put a ring on it before you can look forward to the cardiovascular benefits?

There’s also quite of bit of research saying that no – reaping the benefits love can have for your heart health need not require a wedding band.

The Importance of Touch

One reason seems to come down to the effect physical touch can have on our blood pressure.

One study from the State University of New York at Oswego found that people’s blood pressure tends to go down when they’re with their significant other – pointing to how a partner’s presence can have a calming effect.

Another study even found that writing your partner a message – such as a love letter or Valentine’s card – had a statistically significant impact on lowering cholesterol.

Several other studies have explored the effect of physical touch. While partnered people may understandably get the most out of physical touch, it’s not just them who benefit.

Hugs, massages, and other forms of touch can all help reduce the cortisol stress hormone and release the feel-good oxytocin hormone, thereby reducing both blood pressure and heart rate. Our furry friends can even help here too, as the effect of petting and bonding with your pet can have similar calming effects. Research even shows that dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure than non-dog owners. Part of that is due to needing to walk the dog and thus getting more exercise, while part of it is due to your pet’s calming presence.

Many researchers ultimately think that the key variable is having someone to talk to about life’s problems – or someone you know you can count on if something happens. While married people often have that person at home, even those who are single – but have strong social connections and family support systems – tend to have better heart health than those who don’t.

A 2010 meta-analysis of 300,000 people across almost 150 studies even found that those who had strong social relationships were 50 percent more likely to be alive at the time the study ended.

The Importance of Good Influence

The other big reason strong relationships – whether romantic, marital, or otherwise – seem to have a positive impact on heart health comes down to encouraging each other’s good habits.

Smokers were 11 times more likely to quit if their partner also quit at the same time. Those who wanted to exercise more were five times more likely to be successful if their partner did so too, and three times more likely to lose weight – according to one study which looked at nearly 4,000 people.

Ultimately, a significant body of evidence tells us that human connection is something our heart will thank us for – both emotionally and physically. Our significant others can literally help us live longer just through the reassurance of their presence. But even those without one can invest in their heart health not just through better exercise and diet – but by surrounding themselves with supportive people in their lives.