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Don't Reserve Celebrations of Love to just Valentine's Day if you Want a Healthier Heart

by Camille Fine, USA TODAY, 02-14-2023

Valentine’s Day cynicism and urges to forget the "Hallmark holiday" entirely are valid responses to February 14. But if you’re put off by inescapable commercialism taking over more genuine tokens of affection, research shows opening your heart can be associated with improved health and longevity.

So if you needed one more reason to get back out there and shoot your shot, Thomas Rutledge, Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego, listed a handful of justifications for thawing a cold heart. (Psychology Today).

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“In the journey towards better health and heart function, how love changes our outer behaviors (is) often as profound as the changes in our inner biology," Rutledge wrote in Psychology Today.

1. Love changes the way your heart works

Neurotransmitters and hormonal messengers that communicate love from the brain to the heart can have important health consequences by dramatically altering the heart’s function, flow and output. The chemical and functional changes make a heartbeat more forceful; improving blood flow, cardiac rhythm, nervous system function and even help to fight off infections.

2. Love makes us more resilient

Studies show that energy and pleasure spikes associated with “a love-empowered heart” can reduce the risk of and promote recovery from cardiovascular events like strokes and heart attacks.

3. Love changes our behavior

Rutledge highlights the ways in which love can drive people to make major changes in their health habits and lifestyles. “How many parents have overcome addictions to alcohol or cigarettes, for example, in an expression of love for their newborn child? How many soldiers have made enormous sacrifices for their love of country and family?” Rutledge wrote.

4. Lack of love can breed health harms

Health harms associated with the absence of love, including loneliness, depression, addiction, suicide, are “common symptoms and consequences" of the "21st-century society in which love and deep interpersonal connections have become exceptions," rather than the norm. Rutledge said he believes it’s become “increasingly difficult for millions of Americans to achieve a sense of meaning in their lives” during a time when neither government nor technology is “likely to offer solutions for love-deficient modernity in the foreseeable future.” Instead, the most available remedy is prioritizing loving relationships, Rutledge said.

To the naysayers, Rutledge argues that February 14th can remind us of love’s “vital” importance in our lives, as well as the benefits people get from experiencing it. “If better health and well-being strike you as a rather passion-less Valentine's gift… remember just what better health provides: your capacity for peak emotional experiences, your potential for adventure (amorous or otherwise), and your ability to engage with and enjoy the people and causes that matter to you,” Rutledge said. “The chief benefit of love is improved physical and mental health.”


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