Contributed by Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS
Health and well-being isn’t solely influenced by one’s ability to adhere to the behaviors dictated by the doTERRA Wellness Lifestyle Pyramid. Research is beginning to show that the strength of your relationships has a robust association to measurable markers of health and lifespan. One of health science’s most revered longitudinal studies, Harvard’s “Grant Study”, has presented strong evidence that social connections, especially romantic relationships, can have a profound influence on physical health. Now, a recently published study suggests that being in close physical proximity to your partner or simply thinking about them may positively influence your heart’s response to stressful events. And the healthier your relationship, the better you may be able to regulate that cardiovascular reaction and the sensation of pain.
To investigate the effect of having a loved one close by on cardiovascular response during stressful situations, researchers from the University of Arizona developed an innovative study that literally attempted to freeze the heart of participants1. 102 participants were recruited, with the inclusion criteria being that they were of college age (18 to 25) and currently in a committed romantic relationship. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: completing the task with their romantic partner physically close by (partner present), to think about their partner during the task (mental activation), or to simply have their mind wander about their day (control). The task: having their foot submerged in water that was slightly warmer than freezing. To measure cardiovascular response throughout the experiment, participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability was monitored before, during, and after completion of the task. Participants also completed a self-reported questionnaire that included questions regarding their romantic relationship and the experience post-task.
Consistent with the hypothesis, literal or figurative presence of the participants’ loved one had a direct measurable impact on measured biomarkers of cardiovascular response. In both the partner present and mental activation groups, systolic and diastolic blood pressure were significantly lower and less variable than those in the control group. And, to the surprise of the researchers, whether the partner was physically there or simply thought about was not a differentiating factor; blood pressure rates and variability were virtually equal. There were no statistically significant differences in heart rate and heart rate variability among the three conditions.
Furthermore, although biomarkers suggested the cardiovascular response was identical, those in the partner present group self-reported less physical pain due to the cold water than those in the mental activation group, and the control group reported the most pain. Interestingly, there was significant variance in blood pressure and self-reported physical pain depending on how participants’ viewed the health of their romantic relationship. Regardless of condition, those who reported lower satisfaction with their romantic relationship were correlated with higher blood pressure variability and slightly increased physical pain. Future studies hope to investigate the evident cardioprotective effect of romantic relationships in the general community, including participants of varying ages.
Whether finding yourself submerged in freezing water or stuck in rush-hour traffic, there are stressful events in everyday life that no amount of physical exercise or healthy eating can prepare us for. If you can’t have a loved one physically by your side to ease the anxiety, try simply thinking about them. To promote well-being, spend this Valentine’s Day close by your loved one, and don’t forget to set the mood with a few drops of doTERRA Passion® in the diffuser.