The Thoughts of Love Reduces Blood Pressure

When facing a stressful situation, thinking about your romantic partner may help keep your blood pressure under control just as effectively as actually having them in the room with you.

For a new study, researchers asked 102 participants to complete a stressful task submerging one foot into 3 inches of cold water ranging from 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers measured participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and heart rate variability before, during, and after the task.

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Researchers randomly assigned the participants, all of whom were in committed romantic relationships, to one of three conditions when completing the task. They either had their significant other sitting quietly in the room with them during the task; they had to think about their romantic partner as a source of support during the task; or they had to think about their day during the task.

Those who had their partner physically present in the room or who thought about their partner had a lower blood pressure response to the stress of the cold water than the participants in the control group, who researchers told to think about their day. Heart rate and heart rate variability did not vary between the three groups.

The effect on blood pressure reactivity was just as powerful whether the partner was physically present or participants merely thought of them.

Although previous studies have suggested that having a partner present or visualizing a partner can help manage the body’s physiological response to stress, the new study suggests that the two things are equally effective at least when it comes to blood pressure reactivity.

The findings may help explain, in part, why high-quality romantic relationships are consistently associated with positive health outcomes in the scientific literature, says coauthor Kyle Bourassa, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Arizona.

“This suggests that one way being in a romantic relationship might support people’s health is through allowing people to better cope with stress and lower levels of cardiovascular reactivity to stress across the day,” Bourassa says. “And it appears that thinking of your partner as a source of support can be just as powerful as actually having them present.”

The research appears in the journal Psychophysiology. This time, the algorithm reported that men’s brains were 2.4 years older than their true ages.

“The average difference in calculated brain age between men and women is significant and reproducible, but it is only a fraction of the difference between any two individuals,” Goyal says.

“It is stronger than many sex differences that have been reported, but it’s nowhere near as big a difference as some sex differences, such as height.”

The relative youthfulness of women’s brains was detectable even among the youngest participants, who were in their 20s.

“It’s not that men’s brains age faster they start adulthood about three years older than women, and that persists throughout life,” says Goyal, who is also an assistant professor of neurology and of neuroscience.

“What we don’t know is what it means. I think this could mean that the reason women don’t experience as much cognitive decline in later years is because their brains are effectively younger, and we’re currently working on a study to confirm that.”

Older women tend to score better than men of the same age on tests of reason, memory, and problem solving. The researchers are now following a cohort of adults over time to see whether people with younger-looking brains are less likely to develop cognitive problems.

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