Add love to your heart health regimen

This close to Valentine’s Day you probably don’t want to read another article about how you need to exercise, eat properly, keep your cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure under control to ward off heart disease. No, you want to hear about eating dark chocolate and drinking red wine.

Okay. But, you need to share that chocolate and you really don’t want to drink alone, so today we’re going to report on how falling and being in love can improve your health.

“One theory on why love is good for your health is that blood pressure responds to calmness and peace,” says Christopher Suhar, MD, a cardiologist and director of Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. “If you’re in love, you’re calmer and more at peace, which could translate into lower blood pressure.”

This Scripps article also says that if you develop heart problems, your survival is more likely and your recovery much better if you’re married or in a committed relationship. They say that it’s not only about romance. Relationships with friends and family can benefit your heart health as can having a loving four-legged pet.

“Surrounding yourself with people who love you – no matter the relationship – can also make you more inclined to follow medical advice and take an active part in your care, which can improve recovery,” the Scripps article says.

An article published in Science Daily quotes Pat Mumby, PhD, co-director of the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic and professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine who explains the physiology:

“Falling in love causes our body to release a flood of feel-good chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions. This internal elixir of love is responsible for making our cheeks flush, our palms sweat and our hearts race. Levels of these substances, which include dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, increase when two people fall in love.

“Dopamine creates feelings of euphoria while adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for the pitter-patter of the heart, restlessness and overall preoccupation that go along with experiencing love,” Dr. Mumby said.

Oh, it’s not love it’s lust, you say? Well, sex offers more than a feeling of intimacy or pleasure. According to the Cleveland Clinic sex offers incredible health benefits.

“Besides the emotional aspects and feelings of wellbeing, it can be good for your heart, relieve pain and help you sleep,” this article says.

“Researchers have found that men who had sex at least twice a week were less likely to develop heart disease compared to men who only had sex once per month, according to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology,” the Cleveland Clinic reported.

“Stories about men or women experiencing heart attacks mid-session are most likely due to a stress or anxiety-ridden relationship. Partners in trusting relationships usually aren’t at risk.”

According to Dr. Mumby there are three phases of love: lust, attraction and attachment.

“Lust is a hormone-driven phase where we experience desire. Blood flow to the pleasure center of the brain happens during the attraction phase, when we feel an overwhelming fixation with our partner. This behavior fades during the attachment phase, when the body develops a tolerance to the pleasure stimulants. Endorphins and hormones vasopressin and oxytocin also flood the body at this point creating an overall sense of well-being and security that is conducive to a lasting relationship.”

Somehow I think Dr. Mumby is getting a bit too clinical. I like what Dr. Suhar said when he said, “I think having love in your life is paramount to living a healthy lifestyle. That love can come from many different sources: marriage, a partner, siblings, parents, friends or a pet. The goal is gaining peace through love, which decreases stress and anxiety in your life and benefits your heart.”

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day and don’t forget the chocolates and wine!

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.