In this season of hearts and cupid's bows, it may seem heretical to put love's magical mystery on the examining table. But science confirms its healing power. Committed lovers have less depression and illness, more energy and mental placidity. And all poetry aside, that most wondrous of states does actually make your heart a more efficient organ.
People who are feeling loving have a different rhythm in their tickers than those who are angry or ungrateful. Luckily, we don't have to wait for a mate to arrive to get that loving feeling; we're capable of improving our own coronary pulsations. Try slowing your breathing to take four or five seconds to inhale and the same amount of time to exhale.
Focus your attention on your heart area, in the centre of the chest, while you're doing this. Then think of something you can sincerely appreciate, and let yourself really feel this appreciation. Within minutes, you'll change your inner beat. For more ways to set a new pace, see the emotional security "tool kit" at www.heartmath.org.
Below, our consultants define love, explain why it's good medicine and tell us how to get more of it.
what the experts say
"Love includes a quality of care for others, for the world outside of our self-centredness, as well as for ourselves. Positive emotions such as appreciation, care and love, lead to distinct and profound changes in our physiology. Such emotions (because they shift heart rhythm) are, like the finger on the wine glass, driving the body system to start oscillating at its natural resonant frequency. We don't get tired as fast, we think better, our hormonal system retains a better balance and our immune system is facilitated."
ROLLIN MCCRATY, PhD, psychophysiologist
"I define love as having the stimulation one desires (whether physical or intellectual). Pathology develops in the absence of stimulation, and we try to recreate it behaviourally. For example, smoking provides lung stimulation that can substitute for hugging. Psychosomatic diseases can be understood in these terms. Asthmatic attacks are often triggered by the loss of a loved one or the fear of abandonment. They may be the body's feeble attempt at replacing the stimulation the person fears is lost."
BARRY KOMISARUK, PhD, professor of psychology, Rutgers University, NJ
"What does science know about love? Not much at all. We do know that people who are in committed relationships and people who are sexually expressive are less depressed, have less heart disease and strokes. More frequent sexual activity is also associated with a decreased incidence of female and male breast cancer."
BEVERLY WHIPPLE, president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality
"The take-home message from all the latest research is that couples who stay together say seven positive things for every one that's negative. Love is about having a sense of gratitude. One has to learn to make oneself happy first, by being positive most of the time, to be able to love another person."
HANNA MCDONOUGH, MSW, RSW, CAMH, lecturer, department of psychiatry, U of T
"(You can see) loving as a choice. Even if I don't have lovey-dovey feelings toward someone, I can still act with the intention to love them. Love is goodwill in action. It's not about relying on how I feel about someone. It's about how I choose to relate to them. I can invoke the skills of loving, such as seeing, hearing, honouring and having goodwill. I don't think this approach precludes anger or upset. Does it promote well-being? Ultimately, yes. It's the process of self-authentication."
PAT PARISI, M.Ed., body psychotherapist
"Pure, unconditional love is boundless, can take any form and can completely transform us when we open up to it. But our role models for love are more about limitation than boundlessness. Relationships are often structured on possessiveness, and love is conditional, based on what we do for each other, as opposed to accepting each other as we are.'
ERICA ROSS, NAN KEYSER, expressive and healing arts facilitators