Health

Five emotions that deliver plenty of healthful benefits

Love, hope, empathy, gratitude and happiness can even up your pain threshold

You may have heard this before. Being optimistic helps you steer clear of heart diseases, reduces stress and keeps blood pressure low.

Here is how these five positive emotions - love, hope, empathy, gratitude and happiness - benefit your body.

WHEN YOU ARE IN LOVE

Your body produces adrenaline and norepinephrine in the early days, which make your heart race, and dopamine to make you feel euphoric.

Oxytocin and vasopressin, which are hormones that create feelings of well-being and security, take over in established relationships to maintain the bond.

Health benefit: New couples have a higher pain threshold because intense love stimulates areas of the brain targeted by painkillers.

In the long term, love reduces your heart disease risk and protects against a middle-age decline in life satisfaction. It also minimises how much cortisol - the stress hormone - you produce when under strain.

Get that feeling: Increase the feeling by watching and talking about movies with your partner where relationships are the focus.

When couples did this five times for one month, they improved their relationships and halved their risk of splitting up.

Single? Book in for a massage or hug a dog - both strategies increase oxytocin, the bonding hormone responsible for a lot of love's health benefits.

WHEN YOU FEEL HOPEFUL

The parts of the brain responsible for you thinking positively (the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala) fire up.

Health benefit: Feeling cheery improves how your immune cells respond when confronted with a virus or bacteria.

You will also find making healthy food choices easier because feeling expecting the best for the future boosts self-control.

Get that feeling: Increase the feeling by watching a funny movie. After just 15 minutes, your "hopefulness score" will be higher. Researchers say it works because humour inhibits negative thoughts.

WHEN YOU FEEL EMPATHETIC

Your brain increases production of oxytocin and triggers a network of brain neurons, simultaneously suppressing the network you use to analyse things.

Health benefit: Feeling empathetic increases how generous you feel towards people, which improves your health and lifespan. You will feel happier on average too.

Get that feeling: Increase the feeling by reading a book. As long as it is fictional, reading gives the brain's empathetic region a workout.

WHEN YOU FEEL GRATEFUL

Your brain strengthens structures linked with social awareness and empathy, as well as the region that processes rewards.

Health benefit: Feeling grateful equals feeling happier. And if you verbalise it by saying thanks, it can also boost your romantic relationships and increase your chances of turning a new acquaintance into a friend.

Get that feeling: Boost the feeling by writing down five things you are grateful for every week. After 10 weeks, you will feel 25 per cent happier.

And make sure you get enough sleep as scientists have discovered a link between sleep deprivation and a tendency to feel ungrateful.

WHEN YOU ARE HAPPY

Your brain releases a combination of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. Also, levels of cortisol fall.

Health benefit: You will stay healthier and live longer, with one study saying happiness' effect on longevity can be compared to the difference between smoking and not smoking. Plus, compared with happy people, unhappy ones are 80 per cent more likely to develop age-related health problems.

Get that feeling: Increase the feeling by playing upbeat music and making a conscious decision to be happier - done together, it is a combination that works.

Or catch up with a friend, this increases production of progesterone, a hormone that boosts feelings of well-being.

This article was first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly/Bauer Syndication (www.womensweekly.com.sg)

WELLNESS & BEAUTY