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?

Companionship is good for your heart“Some studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation can be associated with health conditions including dementia and heart disease,” says Tanya Kapka, MD, Medical Director for CareOregon. “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 Karin Weaver, a social worker with Housecall Providers, which provides primary health care to people in their own homes.

“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. Store to Door is one such service.

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 no charge 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. Kapka 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.

Meet people:

  • Walk Oregon (for walks, walking partners)
  • Folk Time, Inc., a non-profit community service agency, is a peer-to-peer socialization and relapse prevention program that focuses on wellness and recovery.

Services:

Food delivery:

Volunteering:

Adopt a pet: Oregon Humane Society