As far back as the ancient Greeks, lyric poetry identified the heart with love. Among the earliest known Greek examples, the poet Sappho agonized over her own “mad heart” quaking with love. For the most part, Greek philosophers agreed that the heart was linked to our strongest emotions, including love. Plato argued for the dominant role of the chest in love and in negative emotions of fear, anger, rage and pain. Aristotle expanded the role of the heart even further, granting it supremacy in all human processes.1
Fast forward to contemporary times. Cardiologists, scientists and researchers agree with the ancient Greeks that love is truly good for the heart, and in more ways than one. “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.”2
All types of love can benefit your heart. Love may help you recover if you ever develop heart problems. It could be from having love in your life, or simply having someone there who has a vested interest in you and is taking care of you. It’s not just romantic love that can improve your heart health. Having close, loving relationships with your friends and family can have cardiovascular benefits. For example, researchers have investigated the role of having the support of loved ones after cardiac bypass surgery.3 Over time, patients who had good social support had a better recovery and survival rate.
Everyone has read about how the heart races when the beloved comes near—in schlocky romance novels as well as world renowned literature. This physical phenomenon is real, not just the stuff of fiction! The brain releases hormones such as dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, all of which makes the heart beat faster and stronger.4 These temporary spikes in heart rate actually benefit the heart muscle by training it to pump more efficiently—the same way doing aerobics or cardio workouts do. Of course, a racing heart due to love has lesser effects on Active Wellness than a daily workout, but still, it’s a bonus that love is good for overall health!
There are even heart-healthy benefits to spending time with your four-legged friends. “Pet ownership also helps people survive longer after a heart procedure,” notes Dr. Suhar. “This relationship has been looked at in both dogs and cats. Those two animals provide a definite benefit from a survival perspective. I believe it is because of the unconditional love that pets give you.”5
Research published in the European Heart Journal shows that having a positive outlook on life can protect against cardiovascular disease. The researchers defined “positive affect” as feelings of joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm, and contentment, all of which may stem from having people you love in your life. Each participant’s level of positivity was measured based on a 12-minute in-person interview and checked health records over the following 10 years to look for incidences of cardiovascular disease. They found that people who scored even a single point higher for positive affect had a 22% lower risk for cardiovascular disease. They also found that 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, suggesting that a positive attitude contributes to better health overall.6
Love floods the body with hormones that affect the nervous system and by association, the heart. The warm feeling of affection ramps up your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you relax, which reduces stress and improves feelings of depression and anxiety. Feelings of love also tamp down the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your fight or flight reactions. According to New York cardiologist Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, “When relaxed, blood vessels tend to dilate a little bit more and blood pressure tends to drop, producing a calmer state.”7
Can love ever hurt your overall health and especially the heart? The answer may be surprising. People talk about a “broken heart” when grieving over a loss—it doesn’t have to be the loss of a romantic partner; it can be the loss of a pet, family member, friend or even a public figure.
Known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome occurs when the heart is stunned by sudden, acute stress and its left ventricle weakens. Instead of contracting into its normal arrow-like shape, the left ventricle fails to function, creating a more rounded, pot-like shape. First described in 1990 in Japan, a broken heart looks so much like a Japanese octopus trap called a “takotsubo” that doctors began calling the condition Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
“Broken heart syndrome is a very real medical disorder,” says Dr. Suhar. “This is typically a temporary condition where the heart will have sudden enlargement and be very ineffective at pumping. It is usually reversible and can normalize after the stress is resolved, but that can take a few weeks to a few months.”8
There are things we can do on a daily basis to improve heart health, and it comes down to eating right and exercising. But what about something that is more loving? Those who know Nikken history may have heard of the “Masuda hug.” Nikken Founder Isamu Masuda was renowned for his hugs and it was an endearing way to connect with his many friends from around the world. Nikken legend has it that anyone who experienced a Masuda hug never forgot it and that it created a feeling close to euphoria.
Fast forward again to contemporary times. According to research from the University of North Caroline, when you participate in a warm embrace with someone you love—a parent, child, spouse, etc.—your body releases oxytocin, otherwise known as the feel-good hormone, which may reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Even holding hands with someone you love has a calming effect on the body, according to a study published in Psychological Science.9
February is heart health awareness month, so pay attention to your ticker. Give someone a hug every day and see how you feel. And don’t forget to take your Kenzen Super Ciaga® and Kenzen Bergisterol®!
2, 3, 5, 8 https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4743-how-love-affects-your-heart
4, 6 https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health-pictures/reasons-love-is-good-for-your-heart.aspx#:~:text=When%20you%20lock%20eyes%20with,heart%20beat%20faster%20and%20stronger.