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by Deborah S. Kaufman, LCSW

Throughout the year we are surrounded with messages about the importance of love and romance in our lives. While there is an element of hype in the ads for hearts and flowers, perfume and jewelry and other assorted expressions of affection, love is a powerful force in our lives that has the capacity to heal. Love does not necessarily need to be the romantic kind to have a positive impact on our health. The love between a parent and a child, the love a person can have for an animal that becomes a special pet or the love between friends can be extremely gratifying. Self-love is an essential ingredient for a happy and healthy life and also plays a role in healing.
According to Blair Justice, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University Of Texas School Of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health, there is strong evidence of the health benefits of good relationships and explorations into different types of relationships such as marriage, family and friendship have shown that love can:

  • Help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries
  • Protect against heart disease.
  • Lengthen life.
  • Boost levels of antibodies in the body.
  • Reduce levels of stress chemicals, which can damage the immune system.
  • Lower risk of disease in general.
  • Decrease risk of early death.

This healing power is recognized by some physicians and healers to help people in their recovery from life threatening disease such as heart disease and cancer. Bernie Siegel, MD is a surgeon and well-known holistic health educator whose philosophy is that love, hope and respect prolong lives more consistently than medical science. In his books and workshops, he backs up his philosophy with anecdotes from his work with patients. One that I read recently was about a man who postponed surgery to tend to his spring planting because he had enough love for himself and nature to recognize that the timing of his planting was essential to continued life. At the time of the writing (Siegel, 1990 Peace, Love and Healing), he was six years post surgery for stomach cancer in his mid-eighties and still landscape gardening, which was his life’s passion. Dean Ornish, MD, founder president and director of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco has devoted the past 25 years to clinical research demonstrating that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse coronary heart disease without drugs or surgery. His four part recovery program {Ornish, 1990, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease) includes an emphasis on love and intimacy which he considers the most important part of the program because studies are showing that people who feel lonely and depressed are more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a strong connection, caring and community.
In our modern world, so many people have gotten caught up in doing rather than being which often puts love on a back burner instead of up front where it belongs. Consider the rewards of loving a child and spending more time in the moment which is the way that children live their lives. Remember the saying that “all I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” that went on to become the bestseller by Robert Fulgham. Cultivating the child-like qualities of simplicity and wonder at the world and remembering to hold hands and stick together, to take naps and clean up your own mess are so well reinforced in the company and care of a child.
The love and care for a pet is a valuable booster for feeling good. Research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits. Pets help lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety. They boost our immunity. They can even contribute to the enhancement of one’s social life. According to several studies, heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without. Researchers also say that male pet owners have less sign of heart disease -- lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels -- than non-owners. According to Lynette Hart, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, studies have shown that Alzheimer patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home and their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet in the home (particularly a cat since they require less care than a dog). Also, walking a dog or just caring for a pet can provide exercise and companionship for older people who no longer are as active as they were when they were younger. Midland Life Insurance Company, recognizing the health value of caring for a pet, asks clients over 75 if they have a pet as part of their medical screening. Research indicates that pet owners with AIDS are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets and a study of stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a dog or cat had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than those without pets.
Love can extend beyond relationships with people and animals. The example of the passionate landscape gardener cited earlier, highlights the role of meaningful activity in health and healing. Love of art, music, dance, poetry, drama can heighten the experience of passion that contributes to overall wellbeing. Pursuit of hobbies and sports similarly contributes to this sense of wellbeing. Appreciating the many wonders of nature is uplifting and life enhancing. And of course the magic of humor and the comedic art has been known to have powerful healing effects.
So, my prescription for health and happiness is to celebrate love in as many ways as are available and meaningful to you. Be passionate, find what and who is important in your life and nurture those activities and relationships. And try to incorporate the following elements into your life for flexibility and balance:

·Full, easy breathing
·Purposeful nourishment
·Pleasurable physical outlets
·Mental stimulation
·Love and Companionship
·Service to others
·Anticipation of satisfaction
·Love and acceptance of what is NOW for your self and other

Revised from an article printed in the Vitality section of the Sarasota Herald Tribune February 2005

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