Does your heart beat faster when you are around the person you love? That feeling of excitement and happiness may do more than just make you feel good, it may actually be good for your heart health.
“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.”
Love may also help you recover if you do develop heart problems. Research has shown that married people are more likely to survive and have a better recovery than people who are not married.
“Men tend to gain more of a cardiovascular benefit from marriage than women do, but on a whole, marriage helps you live longer,” notes Dr. Suhar. “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. Either way, married people recover better from a heart-related procedure than those who are single.”
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. Researchers have investigated the role of having the support of loved ones after cardiac bypass surgery. Over time, patients who had good social support had a better recovery and survival rate.
“Many surgeons counsel their patients about the importance of support after surgery,” adds Dr. Suhar. “This support includes not only spouses, but close friends and family.”
Surrounding yourself with people who love you — no matter the relationship — can also make you more inclined to follow medical advice and take an active part in your care, which can improve recovery.
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.”
While having love in your life can benefit your health, a broken heart can sometimes have physical side effects.
“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.”
Broken heart syndrome, also called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is more common in women, although either gender can have symptoms. In rare cases, this condition can be dangerous and even fatal.
The cure to broken heart syndrome is to ease the stress that caused the syndrome. This can be learning to better manage stress, or even adding more love into life by taking comfort from your loved ones.
“I think having love in your life is paramount to living a healthy lifestyle,” adds Dr. Suhar. “That love can come from many different sources: marriage, a partner, siblings, parents, friends or a pet. The goal is gaining peace through love, which decreases stress and anxiety in your life and benefits your heart.”