Anyone who has experienced romantic love is familiar with that giddy rush of euphoria that grabs hold when Cupid’s arrow strikes.
Scientists believe those feelings are largely due to a rather unromantic brew of chemicals - including a surge in the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine.
And there is strong evidence that being in love is literally good for your heart, by boosting cardiovascular health and longevity.
“We all know that diet, blood pressure and other risk factors play an important role in developing heart disease, but these factors can be modified and influenced by having caring loving relationships,” says Dr. Luanda Grazette, cardiologist and director of advanced heart failure at USC’s Keck school of Medicine.
For instance, she says, couples who exercise and diet together lose more weight and are better able to sustain the weight loss; couples who give up smoking together stay free from cigarettes longer; couples who take an active interest in the health of their partner tend to do better in overall medical compliance.
“There are significant advantages for people who are in relationships or have someone that they can confide in on a regular basis,” Grazette says. “A number of studies from around the world suggest those in partner relationships have everything from better wound healing after surgery to lower risk of death to lower risk of coronary artery events in folks who have coronary artery diseases.”
Among the studies she cites:
- A large-population study from Finland that says marriage and co-habitation – especially among middle-age couples – is associated with "considerably better prognosis of acute cardiac events both before hospitalization and after reaching the hospital alive".
- A Yale University study that not only showed a correlation between the number of coronary artery blockages that men and women had with whether they felt loved and supported, but also found that those in the happiest relationships experienced less severe blockages than those in unhappy partnerships.
- A study filed in the National Institutes of Health US Library of Medicine that found a wife's love and support to be a factor in reducing the risk of angina pectoris - chest pain due to coronary heart disease - even in the presence of high risk factors, such as age, high cholestrol and high blood pressure.
What’s more, myriad other studies have linked love to overall health benefits, such as reductions in stress, anxiety, depression and even inflammation.
So does all this mean those on romantic hiatus are doomed? Not at all, says Dr. Cynthia Thaik, a cardiologist in private practice in Burbank and Valencia. Health benefits of love don’t only stem from romance.
Love of life, of nature and of animals play a role in our overall well-being, as does a healthy dose of self-love, which Thaik says can be as beneficial to your health as the best relationship.
“Because if you love yourself, you’re more likely to engage in activities that lead to improved health, such as better nutrition, physical fitness and you’re less likely to make unhealthy life choices,” she says.
“Each one of us can testify to the benefits of love,” agrees Dr. Sumeet Chugh, a cardiologist and associate at the Cedars Sinai Heart Institute. And if you're stumped about what to give your loved one this Valentine’s Day, Chugh says he’s got a great idea.
"I would say if you love your partner, you need to remember your ABC's," he says, which consist of:
- “A” for appropriate aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease
- “B” for maintaining healthy blood pressure
- “C” for healthy cholesterol levels and “S” to avoid or quit smoking
For more tips on heart disease prevention and heart health, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer tips on its “February is American Heart Month" web page.