With Valentine's Day just one day away, Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute cardiologist Julie Damp, M.D., says being involved in a healthy, loving relationship is good for the heart.
"There are different theories behind why that might be," Damp said.
Most of the theories seem to be related to the fact that people who are married or who are in close, healthy relationships tend to be less likely to smoke, are more physically active and are more likely to have a well-developed social structure. Along with that, they may have lower levels of stress and anxiety in their day-to-day lives, may seek medical attention more quickly, and may be more likely to take preventive medications.
A recent study from Finland showed that married men and women had a significantly lower risk of both having heart attacks and dying from a heart attack compared to people who were single.
"There is also a theory that people who are in loving relationships may experience neuro-hormonal changes that have positive effects on the body, including the cardiovascular system," she said, explaining that there are certain hormone levels in the body that vary depending on the level of an individual's stress and anxiety.
"This has not been proven, but the idea is that being in a relationship that is positive may have positive effects on your cardiovascular system over long periods of time," Damp said. In fact, studies have shown that relationships that involve conflict or negativity are associated with an increase in risk for coronary artery disease.
Giving your loved one a box of dark chocolates and a bottle of red wine won't hurt either. Studies suggest they are good for the heart, as well.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants have positive effects on many different body systems including the cardiovascular system. The high concentration of cocoa in dark chocolate appears to be what offers the flavonoid benefit.
"Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax," Damp said.
Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute