Companionship: Good for the heart

February includes Valentine’s Day. For that reason, February has officially been American Heart Health Month since 1963, a time to take notice of your heart health.

Did you know that having good relationships, as celebrated on Valentine’s Day, is good for your heart, and more?

“Some studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can be associated with health conditions including dementia and heart disease,” says Safina Koreishi, MD, medical director for Columbia Pacific CCO. “Stronger social connections, whether with individuals or in a community, appear to be protective.”

Spending time with a loved one has many health benefits:

  • It can lower your blood pressure.
  • When someone makes your heart race, it trains your heart to pump blood more efficiently.
  • Hugs can help reduce stress-related hormones.
  • Stress is known to restrict blood flow, and that can lead to heart disease; laughing together does just the opposite: improves blood flow.
  • A positive attitude can reduce heart attack risk. And what improves attitude more than a positive relationship with someone?
  • Holding hands can calm nerves.

But having those kinds of relationships can be tough for those who live alone and can’t get out much.

“Social isolation is a huge challenge,” says Lauren Hermann, RN, Tillamook Family Counseling Center.

“Even a little bit of human contact can make a big difference, especially for people who can’t get out, and those with mental health issues or in recovery.”

A number of relationships can be beneficial for those who don’t have live-in companions. People who can’t get out of their homes find companionship as well as nutrition are delivered by the volunteers with programs such as Meals on Wheels. Grocery stores increasingly offer free delivery services, too, bringing food and a friendly face to the doorstep.

For people who have mobility, community centers, gyms, churches and support groups are great places to make connections. And volunteering offers not only the opportunity to build a social network, but also the added benefit that giving to others provides.

One of the best relationships to build and rely on for health may be one you already have – a relationship with your health care provider and their team.

A great resource for older Oregonians: Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon has a menu of services that can bring people to your home and connect you to community services. Some services are free for people on Medicare or the Oregon Health Plan. You can reach them at adrcoforegon.org or 855-673-2372 (855-ORE-ADRC).

And it’s not just human relationships that offer health benefits.

“A pet can also have a positive effect on your sense of well-being and mental health,” Dr. Koreishi says. “And some research suggests that for some, companion animals can make an impact on long-term health conditions as well.”

 

Resources

Read more:
“10 truths to keep your relationship healthy,” Psychology Today.

Services:

Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon: 855-673-2372 (855-ORE-ADRC).

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Northwest Senior and Disability Services

Food delivery:

Meals on Wheels

 

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