Well, OK, you may need a little more than love, but loving someone—your BFF, your significant other, your sister, your dad—can go a long way toward improving heart health. Here’s how.
“Stretch those arms without delay and give someone a hug today!” That line from an old poem may seem corny, but hugs really are heart-healthy. Research from the University of North Carolina found that when you hug someone you love, your body releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, which reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure—both of which play a role in heart disease.
Give your heart a workout. Look into a loved one’s eyes and your heart speeds up a little. This is because your brain releases hormones such as adrenaline, dopamine and norepinephrine, which make your heart beat faster and stronger. Though short-lived, these “love” spikes can train your heart to pump blood more efficiently. (Alas, don’t get too excited; you’ll still need to head to Zumba for a more substantial cardiac workout.)
Grab his hand. Recent research shows that holding hands with someone you love has a calming effect. Experts tried this experiment on happily married couples: They placed each woman in an MRI, and prepared her to feel a mild shock to her ankle. Holding hands with their husbands reduced the women’s brain activity associated with anticipating pain. To be fair, the study also found the women got comfort from a stranger’s touch, too, but not as much as they did from a spouse. High levels of anxiety have been linked to high blood pressure, increased heart rate and other factors that can contribute to heart disease. This study gives new meaning to a “lending a helping hand.”
Get your mind right, reduce your heart attack risk. Studies show that having a positive outlook on life can protect against cardiovascular disease. Researchers define “positive” as feeling joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment, all of which can stem from having people you love in your life. In one study, each participant’s level of positive affect (based on a 12-minute in-person interview) was measured and their health records were followed for 10 years to look for incidences of heart disease. People who scored even a single point higher for positive affect had a 22 perfect lower risk. They also found those with higher positive affect were more likely to be female, less likely to smoke, had lower levels of total cholesterol, and lower levels of hostility and anxiousness—all of which suggests that a positive attitude contributes to better health overall.
Quality time with a loved one reduces blood pressure. We know you don’t need an excuse to share some face time with your husband, but here’s one anyway. A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that people who spent time with their romantic partners experienced a greater dip in blood pressure than those who hung out with a stranger. Researchers link the lower blood pressure to “perceived emotional support,” like you get from someone who knows you really well. Hanging out with a dear friend, experts believe, will have the same effect.