Love makes the world go ’round – and helps your brain too.
Love. We are herd creatures. We need each other. What the world needs now is love… As herd creatures we are wired to gather with others for community. In my work with seniors groups I ask why they come. The almost universal answer is “for the community”. The brain stimulation comes from sharing stories, laughter and activities together. Studies have found that when people are isolated, neurons may begin to atrophy. When you are in socially enriched environments, brain cells are exercised by conversation, playing games such as bridge or chess, sharing thoughts, ideas and opinions. You function better mentally in groups.
Your brain not only wants, but needs community and relationships. Your brain releases “feel good” chemicals called “endorphins” when you are in a satisfying relationship. Relationships take on many forms, most of which include the word love. “Love” conjures up many images and has many meanings. Among those meanings are:
Agape love – doing for others provides such a good feeling that permeates body mind and spirit. There is always some way to volunteer to help others. Most volunteers say they receive more than they give.
Eros love – probably doesn’t need any explanation from me. You are on your own here!
Storge love – (from the Greek) is the word for familial love, such as the love of a parent toward a child. The expanded definition includes close friends and companions. Sometimes there is nothing better than hanging out with good friends to lift spirits or just someone to talk to.
Whatever type of love you choose or encounter, your brain will benefit. The endorphins released produce a natural high (no chemical stimulants needed – with the possible exception of dark chocolate).
We know that part of a relationship often involves touch – hugging, holding hands, back rubs to name a few options. While a good hug can make your day, on a greater level human touch is a powerful and healing tool. Many health care facilities include treatments involving touch such as massage or back rubs. Touch helps patients deal with pain management. The endorphins released ease tension and produce a calming effect. We also know that petting or stoking an animal is helpful for both the “petter” and the “petee”. We know that animals are often residents or invited guests at assisted living facilities to stimulate brain function triggered by touching and petting.
Dr. Marion Diamond speaks about making a discovery on a trip to Germany to study the behavior of rats (did you know your brain is very much like a rat’s brain?). She discovered that the German rats lived one and one half times longer than her rats at Berkley. After much experimentation, it was discovered that the German rats were stroked when removed from their cages. This was the only variable.
If stroking can increase longevity in rats, it most certainly can help us to live longer, healthier, more brain productive lives as well. The research is there. Reach out and touch someone today. Your brain will benefit.