Ah, love. Valentines Day brings it front and center – roses, candy, and sentiments to loved ones. Aside from the moments of terror and corresponding spike in blood pressure that can be brought on by the realization that you have forgotten to plan for this celebration, the emotion of love can be of invaluable help in reducing stress and blood pressure.
Many studies point to the positive health benefits of relationships, be they romantic, familial, or social. One such study, done at SUNY Oswego and the Univ of Pittsburgh, utilizing a SunTech AccuTracker for ambulatory BP measurement (Great choice, guys!), corroborated previous studies that demonstrated a significant lowering of both systolic BP and diastolic BP while interacting with friends and partners.1 Reasons for the drop in blood pressure are attributed by various researchers to the release of hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine , which reduces stress. This has a positive impact on the cardiovascular system and overall health.
OK, so a relationship can have positive cardiovascular effects. How does that tie to health care costs? Think of the current cost of hypertension, as reported by the CDC: $131 Billion annually in the US alone. The CDC also reports the invasiveness of hypertension in all levels of society – over 1000 people die each day from diseases directly tied to high blood pressure, and close to 30% of the US population is hypertensive or prehypertensive. What an impact could be made if we could just reduce the incidence of high blood pressure through stress reduction methods such as positive relationships!
So you're one of the many people not currently involved in a positive relationship? No fretting. Love for a pet is also very effective in reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. A study at SUNY Buffalo showed that pet ownership helped even the most stressed of us – stockbrokers – respond much more calmly to mental stressors.4 The type of pet doesn't matter – dog, cat, horse, hamster, bird(I will not include spiders, as these definitely hike my BP!). Cortisol levels drop when interacting with a pet in a calm setting, and this has a very positive impact on cardiovascular responses. Plus, if more people adopted pets, the population of shelter animals would drop, lowering the stress level on animal control workers.
On this Valentines Day, take a moment to reflect on the positive relationships you have - people and pets – and enjoy the cardiovascular benefits!
- Gump B, Polk D, Kamarck T, Shiffman S. Partner interactions are associated with reduced blood pressure in the natural environment: ambulatory monitoring evidence from a healthy, multiethnic adult sample. Psychosomatic Medicine 2001; 63: 423-433.
- CDC Vital Signs Report: Hypertension, September 2012 http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/Hypertension/index.html#Science
- CDC Feature: Getting Blood Pressure Under Control: High Blood Pressure is Out of Control for Too Many Americans, September 2012 http://www.cdc.gov/features/vitalsigns/hypertension
- Allen K, Shykoff B, Izzo J. Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress. Hypertension ; 38: 815-820.