Did you know that research shows that our relationships with others are another key component to heart health and general well-being?

In my blog, I often discuss the importance of good nutrition and plenty of exercise. Well, social connection and physical demonstrations of affection are just as critical to maintaining good heart health. 

When people are socially connected and have stable and supportive relationships, they are more likely to make healthy choices and to have better mental and physical health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “People with stronger social bonds have a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those who have fewer social connections. They are also better able to cope with hard times, stress, anxiety, and depression.”

Here are some examples of what the research says:

Human Touch

A study published in Biological Psychology showed frequent hugs between partners were associated with lower blood pressure and heart rates, and higher oxytocin levels. The research suggests that this bodily chemical has many heart-related health benefits, including the ability to:

• Lower blood pressure and heart rate

• Decrease stress by lowering levels of cortisol, a chemical known as the “stress hormone”

• Reduce inflammation in heart tissue and possibly repair cells in the heart muscle

• Improve your sleep cycle

The study also found those who hugged more often enjoyed better physical and psychological health, improved relationships and were better able to handle conflict. These positives, experts believe, contribute to, and may even form a foundation for, good physical health.

Community Connection

A growing body of research shows that “a helping heart is a healthy heart.” Being of service and volunteering, studies show, has many physical and mental health benefits. According to one recent study, middle-aged volunteers were less likely to have abdominal fat and high blood glucose than non-volunteers. They also had healthier levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and were less likely to have high blood pressure than their non-volunteer counterparts. Another study focused on high school students, suggested that teenagers who volunteered had better markers for heart disease risk than high schoolers who did not.

Pet Bonding

Human relationships are not the only ones that can benefit your heart health. According to the CDC, studies show that the bond between people and their pets is linked to health benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and decreased feelings of loneliness and anxiety.

So, as we focus on healthier eating and physical activity during February, let’s also make our relationships, giving hugs, and cuddling with our pets a priority. Your heart will thank you.