Have you ever wondered whether it is intentional that Valentine’s Day and National Heart Health Month both fall in February? I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or someone’s intentional design, but their proximity on the calendar very helpfully underscores the undeniable link between a healthy heart and healthy relationships.
Valentine’s Day is best enjoyed when we are experiencing healthy intimate relationships with meaningful individuals in our lives—not just with romantic partners, but also with our children, our parents, and our friends. Healthy relationships have the power to warm our hearts, keep our blood flowing, energize our bodies, and feed our minds with positive thoughts. This contributes to a general feeling of wellness and vitality.
It also contributes to good health. When an otherwise healthy person is experiencing stressful relationships or a lack of close relationships, the resulting emotional disconnection and distress can cause a physiological and biological response that ultimately leads to chronic inflammation. Cardiovascular disease, or what we more commonly think of as heart disease, is characterized by an inflammatory response that damages the cells that line our blood vessels and compromises blood flow. This in turn affects the health of the heart.
In 1990, I had the privilege of hearing Dean Ornish, a leading healthcare researcher and author, speak on his philosophy of healing heart disease. Like many others, he promoted a lifestyle that includes moderate exercise, a whole-food plant-based diet, smoking cessation, and stress management. However, unlike many others, he also advocated for the importance of psychosocial support. He explained the fact that healthy, meaningful relationships contribute to heart health, and that unhealthy emotions and relationships affect vascular biology and cardiovascular disease. In fact, one of his later publications, Love & Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, focuses on this important and often very overlooked risk factor.
So every year, as Valentine’s Day passes by and all those red-and-pink heart decorations are taken down from store windows, I urge you to continue to take the time to show your appreciation for the ones you love. After all, the love that you’re given sustains both your psychological and physical well-being—and the love that you give contributes to the good health of those you hold dear. It’s essential to make every effort to cultivate the intimate relationships in your life and to expand your heart by creating new ones. Your health truly depends on it.