‘Tis the season for love! We’ve gathered some interesting health facts on love and the body and the brain to inspire you during this season. Regardless of whether you’re in-love with someone or you just have love towards others, the health effects of love are numerous.
We all know that sometimes love has us acting the fool — it makes us feel funny and has us losing our appetite or sleep with seemingly no ill effects, but why is this? And why, when we love someone such as a dear friend or family member, do we feel a difference in our body or heart when they smile at us, hug us, etc.? There is a magic behind love, but on a physical level, it comes down to hormones. Love floods the body with a cocktail of chemicals. Some of these chemicals are responsible for lack of sleep or appetite (norepinephrine and dopamine) and others increase bonding or strengthen immunity and reduce pain (oxytocin and serotonin) as well as reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
But what else does love do?
Did you know if you love someone and stare into their eyes or cuddle close to them for at least three minutes your heart beats can synchronize? This is an interesting physiological phenomenon a lot of couples share, along with synchronized breathing. Research also shows random strangers sharing a loved experience such as watching a performance together synchronize heart beats and pulse rates (read more here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/pals/news/2017/nov/audience-members-hearts-beat-together-theatre). How about that! Next time you’re in a collective shared experience, think about the vibrational energy you’re sharing with others.
What other energy are you getting from love?
Did you know that your primary reward centers of the brain fire when you see people you are attached to, even when just shown a picture of those people? Oxytocin, a bonding hormone (also nicknamed the “cuddle hormone”) which has the ability to connect cells is released; dopamine, the hormone associated with addiction and attachment, is also released when you spend time with those you love. So essentially, you can become more attached and addicted to those you care for — spending time with those people gives your body and brain a “hit” that can have lasting positive effects on your health and lifespan. What kind of positive effects?
Did you know that love can strengthen your immune system and increase your longevity? Just hugging others can increase your immunity! Dr. Zach Bush, one of the leading doctors in Integrative Medicine today, explains the immunity effects of sharing a gesture of love with others: “If you get more than seven hugs a day, you decrease the chance of getting a virus by 35%.” This is not new information. Time magazine published an article in 2014 which also stated that strong social ties and acts of affection increase immunity and decrease stress in the body. There is not only a physical exchange of germs that helps to increase the immune system, but also a chemical boost.
In an interview, Dr. Zach Bush explained giving and receiving hugs is “bringing yourself into the sunshine of another human being.” In the same way that plants need sunshine to thrive, humans need that physical contact. Imagine what life would be without connection? We’ve all gotten a taste of that over the last year.
Just as negative emotions such as hate, anger, and stress have ill effects on the body through the mind’s neural pathways and the immune system, love has positive effects for not only your mental and emotional health, but all so for your physical health. It is a key player in longevity. Dr. Waldinger of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development researched connection and longevity; he discovered people who are more socially connected and engaged in close and safe relationships boost their life span! Not only that, but they also have sharper minds as they age.
Increased lifespan and awareness, a stronger immune system, positive hormone production — these are all very interesting and positive things if you have love in your life, but what if you don’t? Some of us aren’t able to build social connections right now or may not have family and friends at our fingertips. However, health benefits of love and attachment also apply to animals and plants! In having the connection to other living things like a dog to pet or a plant to water, your brain also releases the bonding and reward hormones that affect your physical and mental health positively.
So, think about what we can do during this season to invest in our own health through the medium of love. Let’s give ourselves love in these positive ways by loving and connecting with other beings, be they human, animal, or plant. We can celebrate the positive effects love has on our health and try to nurture these things to boost not only our mental and emotional wellbeing, but our physical selves as well! Spread the love!