Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

How does love affect your heart?

Story Highlights
  • A number of studies show that the brain chemicals stimulated when you’re in love are beneficial to your health.
  • The brain chemicals referred to in the study are dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin.
  • Being in love can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and decrease stress.

We’ve got another reason you should be glad to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Come to find out, while love is known to be good for your emotional health, it also packs some great physical benefits too. Yes, not only does seeing the one you love put a huge grin on your face, and maybe butterflies in your stomach, but it also gives your heart a healthy boost.

“There have been a number of small studies that show that the brain chemicals that are stimulated when you’re in love have beneficial effects on your body too,” said Nicholas Ruggiero, MD, Director of Structural Heart Disease and Non-Coronary Interventions at Jefferson University Hospital. “These chemicals lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, decrease stress, and allow you to think more clearly.”

The most studied brain chemicals that Dr. Ruggiero is referring to are dopamine and serotonin, as well as oxytocin and vasopressin. When these chemicals are released, the physical reactions they have on your body (i.e. less stress) can decrease your risk of angina, peripheral artery disease, coronary artery disease, and not to mention heart attack and heart failure.

In addition, a recent study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, showed that when researchers looked at the role marriage might play in the likelihood of having a heart attack, they found that single guys were 58 to 66 percent more likely to have a heart attack, while single women upped their heart attack risk by 60 to 65 percent, compared to their smitten counterparts.

More coverage
  • How does love affect your heart?
  • 5 guilt-free sweets to make on Valentine’s Day
  • Doctor asks: Are avid exercisers hurting their hearts?
  • 10 lifestyle changes for a healthy heart
  • So while it may not feel like it – with a quickened pace and a catch in breath – when you see the one you love, your heart is actually in quite a healthy state!

    And for patients with a previous history of cardiovascular disease, love has also been shown to increase their survival rates. According to Lee Goldberg, MD, Medical Director of the Penn Heart Failure and Transplantation program, a recent study showed that “those who are married tend to live up to five years longer than those who are alone.”

    In the study, published by Health Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, researchers reported that “happily wedded people who undergo coronary bypass surgery are more than three times as likely to be alive 15 years later as their unmarried counterparts.”

    As to the reasons that these dreamy-eyed couples live longer? Well, those are still speculative.

    “It’s been proven that people who are married or have a significant other in their life have a lower risk of heart disease,” Dr. Goldberg said. “Now you could argue this is because someone is looking out for you, or because the everyday responsibilities are shared, or because there are two sets of disposable income – we could make all kinds of stories for why that is true – but we know for sure that the concept of having a companion reduces heart risk.”

    But love’s benefits aren’t only for couples with a history of heart problems – it seems affection can also add years to an already healthy lifestyle too! A new study found those who did not have a spouse in their 40s were more than twice as likely to die early. Yikes, talk about a scary finding for all the single ladies!

    “Married people are much more likely to take care of themselves and they are kind of responsible for making sure that their significant other is cared for too, so we certainly know that being in an important relationship (whatever that may be) has health benefits,” said Dr. Goldberg.

    “It’s been looked at multiple times, if you are in love and have a spouse, you do have a tendency to live longer – maybe because you take better care of each other or they exercise more regularly – but there’s certainly a whole host of benefits related to love and your health,” said Dr. Ruggiero.  

    “Guys eat much better too,” joked Dr. Ruggiero, but he stressed that all of those things – like eating your wife’s chicken dish instead of a burger from McDonald’s – can add up to a healthier heart and body.

    Kelly O'Shea For Philly.com
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