Studies Show Love is Good for Your Heart
Love is good for your heart—countless studies show this. But the opposite can actually hurt your heart, and there’s even a scientific name for it—takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
“It is thought that this syndrome is related to your autonomic nervous system,” says Carl Horton, M.D., a cardiologist with Texas Health Physicians Group. “So you have a sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, and when you have an acute stress, you release a load of adrenaline in your bloodstream, and it’s thought that contributes to takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”
Commonly referred to as “broken heart syndrome,” takotsubo cardiomyopathy can look a lot like a heart attack or angina. Horton says that the trigger for the phenomenon is often some kind of big, life-changing event, like losing a loved one—hence the name.
“It’s usually some major life stress trigger that causes takotsubo,” he explains. “So somebody that loses a loved one or is diagnosed with a severe illness such as cancer, or has any severe financial trouble, loss of a job, loss of a child or spouse—all those things can trigger takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, researchers theorize that the hormones released during stressful events “stun” the heart and impact its ability to pump blood to the body.
“The term ‘stunned’ is often used to indicate that the injury to the heart muscle is only temporary,” the NHLBI adds.
Once testing rules out obstructive coronary artery disease, Horton says patients with broken heart disease are usually put on medication.
“And most of the time their LV function will improve usually within the first six to 12 weeks after this event occurs,” he adds.
But just as much as stress and loss can affect your heart, study after study has revealed that the act of loving another person—and being loved—can be good for your heart, as well.
One study found that people who spend time with their romantic partners had a bigger decrease in blood pressure than those who spent time with a stranger. The same study found that you don’t even have to talk—“perceived emotional support” from someone who knows you well would give the same result, so be it a friend or a partner, time together is good for you.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at the State University of New York at Oswego, found that participants’ systolic blood pressure went down about one point—which may not seem like a lot, but was found to be significant by the researchers because the drop was consistent among nearly all 120 participants.
In another study, the National Institute of Medicine found that strong relationships tended to add years to someone’s life. And a study from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York found that married men and women can reap substantial heart health benefits, although men have the biggest jump—five percent lower odds of any vascular disease.
Heart problems have long been viewed as a male issue, but in reality, it is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. To put it into perspective, one in 30 women dies of breast cancer each year, while a staggering one in three dies of heart disease. In fact, heart disease kills more women over the age of 65 than all cancers combined, and 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for a stroke or heart disease.
All of these factors spurred the American Heart Association’s Go Red™ for Women National Wear Red Day® —a day to wear red, fundraise for research and encourage greater awareness of resources like support groups. At Texas Health, many cardiac rehabilitation patients have found they benefit immensely from the cardiac rehabilitation programs that emphasize group support.
“In the cardiac rehab program, it really helps if the entire family is supportive. The program group therapy sessions help, too,” explains Juzar Lokhandwala, M.D., interventional cardiologist on the medical staff and medical director of the Cardiac Rehab program at Texas Health Arlington Memorial. “It helps to have people who are going through the same things to talk to.”
And this jibes with what researchers touting the Power 9 Blue Zone tenets have discovered, too. The Power 9 tenets were created after researchers and the National Geographic studied the lifestyles and habits of the world’s longest-lived people.
Among good habits like healthy diets, including movement throughout the day, having a purpose in life, being able to use routines to shed stress, and even having moderate amounts of wine regularly, researchers found that the people who live the longest put their families first, and also had found their right “tribe.”
“The world’s longest-lived people chose—or were born into—social circles that supported healthy behaviors,” Dan Buettner, National Geographic fellow and New York Times bestselling author, explains. “Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.”
Strong, satisfying relationships have been found to be just as important to the survival rate after coronary bypass surgery as traditional risk factors like smoking and obesity.
Almost everyone has some level of oxytocin in their system, but how much, researchers say, seems to be largely hereditary. Levels rise with childbirth and lactation; however, research has also revealed that almost everyone can have a “burst” of oxytocin after simply holding an infant or interacting with a child.
“Physical contact increases oxytocin levels because it helps with bonding and social relationships,” Sheila Chhutani, M.D., M.B.A., an OB/GYN and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, explains.
Research has also found oxytocin levels can be boosted by a variety of actions, including expressing gratitude, exercising, getting a massage, giving a hug and getting a dog.
However, while love may heal, it’s only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to overall wellness, Chhutani cautions.
“Being in a healthy relationship is not a substitute for having healthy habits,” she says. “It will enhance the effects of healthy habits, but not replace them.”
Get those hugs and family time in as much as you can, but adding in some family-friendly exercise like an after-dinner walk can do wonders for your heart as well.
To learn more about the heart & vascular services Texas Health has available, visit TexasHealth.org/heart or call 1-877-THR-WELL (1-877-847-9355). To learn more about how Texas Health is partnering with you for a better North Texas, visit the Blue Zones website.