Valentine’s Day is Friday, February 14. It’s the day you give a chocolate heart shaped box of chocolates and a Valentine to your significant other as a symbol of your love. In doing so, you create more ‘heart happiness’ between the two of you. But, did you know that this simple exchange also creates more heart (and overall) health too? It’s true. So, since Valentine’s Day is the symbol of a happy relationship, I’d like to talk to you about why having a happy heart figures more into your health and longevity than you may realize…
The Heart Doctor’s Prescription for Health
When talking to you about improving your health, especially your heart health, most likely your doctor ignores talking about your “emotional” heart – the one that can be happy or sad. But, it’s been shown in research that being in a happy relationship, alongside eating a healthy diet and exercising, is the #1 best thing you can do for your health. Why is that?
The big factor is stress. People who are in happy relationships experience less “bad” stress in their life. As a result, their immune systems are stronger and better able to fend off disease. Bad stress is the kind that comes out of being chronically depressed and/or angry, arguing with a spouse or significant other, living in a negative and/or threatening environment, and going around with bottled up anger and resentment.
When you chronically live like that, your body constantly secretes adrenaline and cortisol – 2 powerful stress hormones. Your angry emotions keep your body ready to “fight or flight” at any given time. Constant stress hormone production leads to inflammation throughout the body which is the precursor to disease. Inflammation not only wreaks havoc on your heart and vascular health, but it can trigger type 2 diabetes, and even open the door to getting cancer.
But bad stress hormones can arise even if you’re not part of an unhappy relationship. They can occur if you’re not part of any relationship too. Research shows that if you’re single, and not in a committed relationship, your risk of developing serious health conditions is much higher than people in even a not-so-happy relationship. In fact, death of a spouse and/or divorce can mean a significant decrease in your health.
Although many studies have shown that being married, or in a committed relationship, has beneficial health benefits, a Brigham Young University study found that the key is not just being married and/or paired up. The key is whether the relationships are happy or not. The happiness factor is the single most health-protective factor involved, says the study. Similarly, their study found that unhappily married adults have the highest blood pressure readings of both happily married and single adults.
Yet, a good, and happy, relationship is also a source of the best emotional support. Happy couples tend to take care of each other more and reinforce healthy lifestyles. In addition, sharing good news, having fun/laughing together, releases more oxytocin, the “love” hormone, and serotonin, a “feel good” hormone. These, in turn, create positive emotions which boosts actual body functioning. The Brigham Young group’s next study involves determining if poor health can be made better, stress hormones decreased, by repairing and strengthening relationships.
Happy Love, Happy Heart, Happy Health
So now that you know that creating a happy heart is key to a healthy heart and longer life, how do you better create happiness in a relationship? Here are 3 simple suggestions that really work:
1. Keep your heart open. Stay connected to each other’s heart by sharing your feelings, thoughts, even your doubts and fears with your significant other. “Emoting” draws you together.
2. Show interest. Ask your partner how their day went, what did they do, take an interest in their job, hobbies, etc.
3. Express your affection daily. “Actions speak louder than words” – do something special that speaks your love for your partner rather than a quick “love ya” as you’re running out the door each morning.
This Valentine’s Day, you can still give your significant other the heart-shaped box of (sugar-free!) chocolate as it’s also good for both you/their health. But, remember to create a happy heart on the other days of the year as well. Your heart – and the rest of you – will love you for it and reward you with better health and a longer life!
Ron Blankstein, M.D.