Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show affection or celebrate romance with cards, flowers, and candy. It’s a good day for sweethearts, but it can also be a reminder of how expressions of love and caring may benefit the body. Research suggests that physical demonstrations of affection can improve some health factors and reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Human Touch
Research shows that being touched or touching someone can activate areas of the brain that control empathy, emotions, and certain social behaviors. Health experts believe that touch helps communicate a sense of connection and strengthens positive emotions that enhance family, friendly, and romantic relationships. Research also shows that these positive aspects of relationships contribute to, and may even form a foundation for, good physical health.
Hugging, touching, kissing, and sexual activity can boost levels of oxytocin, a hormone that causes relaxation and calmness. Research suggests that this bodily chemical has many heart-related health benefits, including the ability to:
• Lower blood pressure and heart rate
• Decrease stress by lowering levels of cortisol, a chemical known as the “stress hormone”
• Reduce inflammation in heart tissue and possibly repair cells in the heart muscle
• Improve your sleep cycle
Pain Relief is Stress Relief
In general, prolonged pain can have harmful effects on the heart and circulatory system. If chronic pain isn’t managed, it can damage heart tissue and blood vessels. Sudden surges of pain release adrenalin, a hormone that increases heart rate and blood pressure. The good news is that the touch of a loved one – holding hands, for example – can reduce the sensation of pain, research suggests. Touch also can reduce anxiety and stress caused by injury or chronic pain.
Helping Others Helps You
There’s research to support the expression, “A helping heart is a healthy heart.” Some studies suggest that doing volunteer work can reduce depression and elevate moods, possibly because such work helps create bonds with others. Volunteer work also has been linked to longer life. People who suffer from chronic illness also may feel less pain when helping others.
Your Four-Legged Valentine
Pet owners understand that there’s no need for cards and candy to share love with their furry friends. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies show that the bond between people and their pets is linked to health benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and decreased feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
In This Together
Touching and hugs can remind the brain of familiar feelings of comfort and affection, for both the giver and the receiver. Among couples, this can lead to stronger bonds and more positive emotions. Studies show that couples who share higher levels of connection tend to make more heart-healthy choices and engage in healthier behaviors.
SOURCES: National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention