Published on January 11, 2012 at 4:00 AM
Working up your courage to ask someone to be your Valentine? Science is uncovering the reason why we fear social rejection: Not only does it dash our hopes, it actually puts the brakes on our heart. Specifically, learning that someone doesn't like you triggers a drop in heart rate.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam wanted to explore the physiological impact of hurt feelings. They asked 27 student volunteers (18 female, 9 male, ages 18 to 25) to submit photos of themselves. The students were told this was for a study on first impressions -- but this was just to simulate the conditions for the real experiment. Later, the students were hooked up to a heart rate monitor and shown images of other students whom they believed had seen their photos. They were asked to guess whether the other student liked them or not -- and overall they were fairly optimistic (on average, they believed they would be liked 57% of the time). When the volunteers anticipated a positive outcome, but instead were rejected (actually a computer generated response), heart rate dropped by 10%.
A slight drop in heart rate would probably have no health consequence -- but a larger drop might cause lightheadedness, nausea, sweating and even fainting. Someone with underlying heart problems could be prone to a more severe reaction. While we can't always avoid life's emotional slings and arrows, we can keep our heart in tip top shape through diet and exercise. Choose bananas for potassium (lower blood pressure), fiber (helps regulate cholesterol) and vitamin C (prevents oxidation of LDL "bad cholesterol"). Eating more fruit and vegetables in general can help with weight maintenance, a key component of cardiovascular health.
Bonus: Go longer for heart health. While short bursts of exercise help in many ways, Japanese researchers found significant increases in HDL ("good") cholesterol only when exercise lasted for more than 30 minutes.
Source University of Amsterdam