Valentine's Day a paean to love - and good health

Editor's note: This story originally published Feb. 13, 2012.

Relax. Fortunately for you, I won't be dispensing any advice regarding matters of the heart.

Rather, I think we'd all do well to take a look at how what Valentine Day's celebrates - you know, that little thing that The Beatles sang is "all you need" - actually benefits your overall health.

Oh, sure, being in love sometimes makes us do regrettable things.

But, by and large, love does a mind and body good. After all, we're social creatures - "pack" animals, if you will (hence, dogs being our "best friends").

We're chemically hard-wired to seek human connection and companionship.

University of Virginia psychology Professor James Roan, who has studied the effects of pain tolerance when a person is in the presence of a loved one (it's higher, by the way), said in a recent U.S. World & News Report article, "Social isolation is as dangerous (to one's health) as cigarette smoking."

One of the reasons for this is that numerous studies have shown that people in satisfied, committed relationships produce less of the stress hormone cortisol.

When - in reaction to mental, emotional or physical stress - your body produces cortisol, there are several deleterious effects, including:

  • A decrease in the functioning of your immune system;
  • A decrease in your metabolism;
  • A decrease in your body's ability to recover from illness and/or injury.

Conversely, being emotionally involved with others helps the body to produce the hormone oxytocin, which creates a sensation of contentment, connectedness and well-being. In addition, it assists the body in combating the effects of stress.

Need more evidence of love's physical benefits?

Consider: Statistics say that married people live longer than single people, and that women have longer life expectancies than men. The former simply confirms what we've already discussed.

The latter, though, is likely due - at least in some measure - because, typically, as women age, they tend to grow, and maintain, larger social-support networks than men do.

Thus, with more social connections than their male counterparts, women simply tend to outlive men.

It's not surprising, then, that Valentine's Day has long been thought of as a "women's holiday." After all, women seem to have intuitively recognized the health benefits of love, romance and human connectedness.

But regardless of whether you're male or female, single or married, dating or in a committed relationship, you too can benefit from reaching out today to everyone in your life who matters to you.

You see, as was written in the most memorable Valentine's Day card I ever read: "Valentine's Day isn't just for lovers - it's also for those you love."

~steve_dorfman@pbpost.com

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