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Experts say falling in love is great but watch your heart

February 14, 2022

Experts say that falling in love enhances your well-being. But they stress the importance of watching your heart while doing so, especially for older people with blood vessel blockages or heart attack survivors. 

Two women looking at bouquets of roses on sale at a flower shop in Nairobi, Kenya
Image: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Experts have advised that, for optimum physical and psychological well-being, you should not spend Valentine's Day alone. In an ideal world, you would have fallen in love before February 14 and will still be in love well after the roses have drooped. But they have also issued a caveat to watch your heart. 

Rotimi Animashahun, a professor of creativity-innovative counselling at Nigeria's University of Ibadan, told DW that there are positive correlations between love and psychological well-being, though they shouldn't be restricted to Valentine's Day. 

"Love is a strong factor for existence and that is why people who are in love and are loved express fewer depressive symptoms compared to those who are not," Animashahun said. 

Positive emotions 

He compared the lives of people who manifest positive emotions with those who do not. The latter tend to die younger than those loaded with positive emotions because, he said, negative emotions are silent killers that drain lives, while positive emotions promote longevity. 

When we love or feel loved, our bodies secrete feel-good hormones like endorphins and oxytocin that nourish the brain and enhance our mental health. That's why experts recommend people to avoid toxic relationships. 

Valentine's Day originally commemorated Saint Valentine, a Catholic saint known for his generosity to the poor and helpless, who was murdered on February 14. The secular celebration — a show of love often characterized by parties — has overtaken the original purpose.

According to Professor Animashahun, quasi-experimental studies on both single and married people who were in love and are loved showed that they were far less likely to suffer from psychological illnesses. Over the years, such people have been found to live healthier, happier and longer lives.

Adverse effects of not being in love

Thus, experts have warned people who are not in love, who don't feel loved or who are grappling with love to be careful because it can have an adverse effect on their mental health. 

"This is a dangerous place to be!" Dr. Oluseun Peter Ogunnubi, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos and a consultant psychiatrist at Lagos' Grace Cottage Mental Health Clinic, told DW. 

The moment one loses that sense of loving or being loved, psychological issues like depression or anxiety set in, according to Dr. Ogunnubi. This is due to excessive secretion of dangerous chemicals in the brain, such as adrenaline, and a reduction in the secretion of feel-good hormones and neurogenic chemicals like serotonin and endorphins. 

Dr. Ogunnubi said that the highest rates of mental disorder are consistently found among those who either felt unloved or were unloved, while it wasn't so common among those in love-filled environments. Couples who genuinely love and express love have higher chances of living longer. 

Benefits of love

He said human beings are born with an innate need to be loved and love others, which leads to fulfilment. That, in turn, affects the mental state of the individual, reinforces the immune system, and reduces stress. So, being unfulfilled in love could have a variety of adverse effects on one's health and well-being.

Medical findings have revealed that even children benefit immensely from the love cycle. Dr. Efunbo Dosekun, medical director of Lagos' Outreach Women and Children's Hospital Group told DW that when children are surrounded by love, kindness, empathy and sensitivity, they will be kinder, more empathetic people when they reach adulthood. She said love and nurturing have major roles in protecting the emotional and mental health of children, as well as various developmental phases of their lives. 

Dr. Dosekun said the love cycle doesn't just happen suddenly, it should begin from birth because receiving love as a child creates the right foundation to be able to express it to others. 

Love actions

"Love is not just buying clothes or gifts for them, love is trust; it is showing children you care, you are trustworthy, dependable and consistent. And all these actions can start happening right from the day the child is born," said Dr. Dosekun.

Hugs are one of the loving actions children should receive regularly. Dr. Dosekun said that infants who are on the receiving end of regular loving actions by their parents, turn out to live better than those who are not, as love helps them live longer and fight diseases. 

Falling in love or being in love has been scientifically proven to increase one's heart rate. That, in turn, increases blood flow to all parts of the body, including the sexual organs. This has also been discovered to have positive effects on the mind and body.

But scientists have also discovered that falling in love can sometimes be dangerous. 

Heart issues

Dr. Reginald Ho, a cardiac electrophysiologist, noted that people with serious heart problems should be careful because while falling in love, the brain sends signals to the adrenal gland, which secretes hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. They flow through the blood and cause the heart to beat faster and stronger. 

When the heart rate goes up, the heart uses more oxygen, which, according to Dr. Ho, can be risky for an older person with blood vessel blockages or anyone who has had a prior heart attack. 

Dr. Ogunnubi also says falling in love could be dangerous.

"I always ask young people to guard their hearts with all jealousy; reason being that a significant number of young men and women who are in different mental health institutions across the country today are there because of heartbreak."

Dr. Ogunnubi says Valentine's Day is often characterized with irrational promises and deception. And, because of the frenzy surrounding February 14, his advice is that people should "shine their eyes" — be clear and aware about what they're getting into.

Edited by: Keith Walker 

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Tobore Ovuorie
Tobore Ovuorie Tobore Ovuorie is a multiple award-winning Nigerian investigative journalist and creative writer.