Every thought you think and every emotion you feel has an effect on your physical body. That’s because a single thought can give rise to an emotion that then triggers the release of hormones that go on to influence your body’s internal processes, such as the activation of the flight-or-fight response, or the inflammation response, or a surge in blood pressure!
What’s the best medicine against not-so-friendly thoughts or emotions? Some experts, such as author and Huffington Post contributor Dr. Cynthia Thaik of the Holistic Healing Heart Center, say it’s love!
Love Your Way to Health
As one of the nation’s leading cardiovascular specialists and author of Your Vibrant Heart, Dr. Thaik says cardiovascular health isn’t merely dependent on how freely your blood flows, but is also influenced by the health of what she calls your emotional or physical heart. A study from The American Journal of Medicine showed that married men had reduced angina (chest pains) when they felt loved by their wives. Science supports optimizing your heart health with love, laughter, strong social connections, and positivity.
The positive feelings encouraged by love help to counteract your body’s response to stress. When you are stressed, your body unleashes cortisol, the stress hormone, which in turn increases your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression. Love influences hormones in the other direction by stimulating the release of oxytocin, known as the “feel-good” hormone. Oxytocin has been linked to a stronger immune system, lower inflammation, decreased blood pressure, a better mood, and improved pain tolerance.
A 2014 University of Pittsburgh study revealed that sleeping next to someone you love down-regulates cortisol and up-regulates oxytocin, and in doing so helps to lower stress, thereby protecting against cancer, heart disease, and digestive ailments. The oxytocin benefits of sleeping next to a loved one even surpass the disadvantages of sleeping next to a partner who snores or has other disruptive sleeping habits!
Stimulating oxytocin is simple. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers showed that hugging and handholding was enough to produce an oxytocin buzz.
Love’s Influence on Immunity
According to a study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University, lonely people are more likely to experience a recurrence of latent viruses. Researchers theorize that people with stronger social connections benefit from an increase in cytokines (immune cells) and endorphins (such as dopamine), as well as an overall more relaxed state of mind.
A Carnegie Mellon University study made up of 334 healthy participants ages 18 to 54 showed that those experiencing more positive emotions, such as happy, pleased, and relaxed, were less vulnerable to the common cold than were participants who were more hostile, anxious, or depressed.
Other studies indicate that love in the form of vital family connections can even help cancer patients recover from treatment faster. And an Ohio State University study showed that a 30-minute supportive conversation with your spouse can accelerate wound healing by 24 hours.
Love and Longevity
Studies suggest that men and women in long-term and loving relationships tend to live longer than their single counterparts. A 2007 report from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed that, overall, married people were happier, healthier, lived longer, drank less, and visited the doctors less often than unmarried people.
If you’re single don’t distress. Social connections in the form of family, friends, and supportive work colleagues have been shown to improve survival odds by as much as 50%. That’s the same odds as cutting out smoking, and an even greater improvement than that found with exercise, according to study published in PLoS ONE.
Ultimately, love starts with you. So be sure to keep practicing self-care, and keep welcoming love into your life.