It’s that time of year.
Romance is in the air, cupid is stringing his bow.
And everyone is thinking about love.
It may surprise you that as a doctor, I place a high value on love — not only for its value in our social relationships, but also for its role in our physical health.
You see, the mind-body connection is a very real thing. What we think, feel and believe can actually affect our physical body.
You may know that stress levels can affect your health — anyone who’s had a stomach ache or headache from constant worry about bills or family drama can certainly attest to that. Stress can also weaken your immune response and exacerbate autoimmune diseases.
But did you know that your thoughts and feelings can also affect your cardiovascular system?
Love has long been associated with the heart. Science suggests that lovers’ heartbeats actually sync when they’re holding hands. And higher levels of oxytocin (the love hormone released when we hug others or spend time in community) have been linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate. In one study of heart patients in Brazil, symptoms of anxiety were present in 32.5% of the study participants.
Self-Love And Heart Health
Although we often link romantic love to the heart, self-love is also clearly related to heart health and overall wellness.
After all, when we love ourselves, we’re more likely to prioritize our health.
When we engage in healthy habits, like exercise, healthy eating, and mindfulness, we’re more likely to have a strong and healthy heart. But it also appears that self-love and self-esteem have direct effects on your cardiac vagal tone — which is a measure of how the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) affects the heart. The PNS lowers inflammation and heart rate. In one study, researchers even found a correlation between self-esteem and heart health by measuring the PNS’s level of influence on the hearts of study participants.
Tips To Cultivate Self-Love
Self-love is something that you can (and should!) actively pursue — heart health benefits or not…and it is something you can choose to work on, which is great news.
Some ways to boost your love of self include:
- Prioritize self-reflection and mindfulness. The more in touch with your wants and needs you are, the easier it is to respect yourself. Spending ample time in reflection and meditation can work wonders for your relationship with yourself.
- Release judgment. Sometimes, it’s easier to start with loving others than it is with loving ourselves. Start by looking at other people with an extra eye towards kindness and a lack of judgment. Try finding everything positive you possibly can in those around you — and eventually, that love will be easier to give yourself.
- Maintain strong boundaries. Standing up for yourself and what you want is an amazing way to boost your self-esteem. Learning to say “no” and not feeling guilty about it can go a long way towards increasing self-love. Recognizing that your boundaries are valid and sticking to them elevates your self-worth.
- Practice self-care. Self-care isn’t selfish. So often, we’re taught to put others’ needs before our own. But if we aren’t strong in our own love of self, we can’t possibly take care of anyone else effectively. It’s completely necessary to take care of your own needs.
Other Ways To Keep Your Heart Healthy
Self-love isn’t the only thing to consider when looking to improve cardiovascular health.
Equally important habits to consider are:
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet — eating for heart health doesn’t have to complicated. As I outline in my book, Built to Thrive, an anti-inflammatory diet can be delicious and incredibly easy to follow. Just be sure to fill up on vegetables (enjoy them with olive oil for flavor and heart benefits), beans, legumes, truly whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruit, and some occasional high-quality animal protein. It really is that simple to eat your way to better health.
- Getting plenty of exercise — you don’t have to kill yourself for hours at the gym to reap the benefits of exercise. Of course, if that’s what you enjoy, continue to do so. But if intense workouts aren’t your thing, by all means, engage in some classic walking or jogging. Walking has tremendous heart health benefits, you can do it anywhere, and you don’t need any special equipment to get started. You can start slow and work up to longer distances, faster pace, and more difficult terrain. Any other weight-bearing exercises also have proven benefits for your body. The key is just doing something that you enjoy on a regular basis.
Love Yourself And Your Heart Will Love You Back
An astonishing 1 in 4 deaths in the United States is a result of heart disease.
According to the CDC, that’s approximately 650,000 people who die every year from cardiovascular conditions — one person every 37 seconds. And over 800,000 suffer heart attacks each year.
Keeping your heart healthy is a major priority. Please, focus on loving yourself, getting plenty of exercise, and eating a heart-friendly diet.
And if you need a little help getting started with a healthy lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a consultation. I’d love to point you in the right direction.
“The mind-body connection: not just a theory anymore. – NCBI.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18589562.
“When lovers touch, their breathing, heartbeat syncs, pain wanes.” 21 Jun. 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170621125313.htm.
“More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are ….” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301051104001632.
“Anxiety, depression, resilience and self-esteem … – NCBI – NIH.” 28 Nov. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5172617/.
“Self-esteem and autonomic physiology: Self-esteem levels predict cardiac vagal tone”
“Heart Disease Facts | cdc.gov.” 2 Dec. 2019,