February is American Heart Month!
So let’s talk about what we mostly associate our hearts with — love — specifically the science of love. From Anthropologists to Neuroscientists, scientists have long studied the scientific basis for the puzzle that is love — there is some chemistry and the rest, as the saying goes, is still very much a mystery — and who doesn’t love a good mystery — so let's dive right in!
To set the stage, think of a time you ran into someone you find attractive — you know the familiar feeling of “thudding” in your chest — no wonder for a long time, people believed that love and similar emotions arose from the heart — turns out we know now, that at least when it comes to love, it has a lot to do with our brain.
The biology of love appears to originate in some of the most primitive parts of the brain — the emotional core of the human nervous system. The brain of a human ‘in love’ is flooded with sensations, often transmitted by the vagus nerve, creating much of what we experience as emotion. The cortex then struggles to interpret the messages of “love”, and weaves a narrative around incoming visceral experiences, potentially reacting to that narrative rather than reality.
In other words, according to neuroscience, a more accurate description would be along the lines of — love is a complex neurological function, which includes appraisal, goal-directed motivation, reward, self-representation, and body image — none of which can be found in the heart and a lot of it depends on the stories we come to amplify in our minds.
But — the problem is that the brain, unlike the heart, doesn’t flutter when lovers kiss!
Nonetheless, brain health and heart health are related. Studies show a consistent and significant link between heart health and brain health and that nurture, rather than nature, matters more.
This February, during the American Heart Month, let us take care of the matters of the heart (and minds) — love in all its forms — spend time with your loved ones, go out of your way to challenge and support each other, and find ways to laugh, love and live well.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), people who have close relationships at home, work, or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer. Feeling connected with others and having positive, close relationships benefit our overall health, including our blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who motivate and care for us helps, as do feelings of love, closeness, and companionship.
So let us find a way to move more and follow heart-healthy lifestyle tips to protect our hearts and, as a result, our minds too. Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active:
Ask a loved one to walk “with you” on a regular basis, put the date on both your calendars even as you are physically distant and text or call to make sure you both get out for a walk.
Get a friend or family member to sign up for the same online exercise class- perhaps a dance class (NHLBI National Wear Red Day World Dance)
Grab your kids, put on music, and do jumping jacks, skip rope, or dance in your living room or yard.
In other words, when it comes to matters of the heart, science is perhaps confirming what we already knew — that — when it comes to growing the feelings of love, your actions might really be what matters most — so send that letter you have been meaning to, call your partner in the middle of the day just because, and go ahead buy a gift that your loved ones might appreciate or simply tell them how much they mean to you.
Thank you for reading!
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American Heart Month | NHLBI, NIH
When we take care of #OurHearts as part of our self-care, we set an example for those around us to do the same.
**This story is part of the S&S Prompt series — science-inspired prompts to get you inspired — Our dear readers — to have a little fun exercising your artistic creativity and write a science-inspired story (a Sciku perhaps!) — if you do — feel free to publish it anywhere on medium, just tag it with — #SnSPrompt.
**Tagging Laura Griffith Machado, PsyD Lynn E. O’Connor, PhD Rita Hitching ASeiler ScienceDuuude Lucy Dan 蛋小姐 (she/her/她)Melissa Gouty Dr. Fatima Imam antoinette nevitt and anyone else who feels inspired to follow and/or play along with this fun #SnSPrompt: Science related to “matters of the heart.”
What to read next? How about this one by Lynn E. O’Connor, PhD —
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Or perhaps check this one by Melissa Gouty