Advocating For a Balanced Approach to Heart Health

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Mind-Body Paths


Goal: Attention to This Connection

Imagine the last time you were scared- could you feel your heartbeat race? This is one of many examples of how your emotional state impacts your body. Although seldom addressed in most medical visits, your emotions play an important role in keeping your heart healthy.

Mental stress can trigger the blood vessels throughout the body to collapse, leading to high blood pressure, and a shortage of blood flow to the heart . Even more dramatically, emotional stress can launch a severe, even life threatening weakening of the heart failure-referred to as “stress heart failure”.

Extremes of stress, anxiety, and depression are the most common emotional states that fuel heart disease. On the positive side, relaxation, a sense of calm, and positive emotions is associated with heart health.

Understanding the strong connection between mind and body can make a big difference in your health. For example, a 10 year study showed that people with an optimistic view of the world had only half the risk of heart disease compared to their more pessimistic peers.

For individuals with known heart disease, daily meditation was shown to cut the risk of a serious recurrence by 48%. In those with a more significant type of irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation), episodes of erratic beating were reduced by nearly 50% with a regular yoga practice of 3 times a week for 3 months.

There is no one right approach to reducing stress and cultivating a more upbeat approach to life. The best approach is unique to each person based on the seriousness of the condition, past experiences, and their personal philosophy toward health. The beauty of an integrative approach is that it expands the list of options to include a wide range of healing modalities.

Strategies for Strengthening Healthy Mind/Body Connections

  • Exercise – regular cardio exercise has drug like effects as a potent mood booster and stress buster. Few interventions will make as significant an impact as added regular physical activity into your routine.
  • Breathing exercises – breathing is a unique bodily function in that it is under the control of both the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems. Breathing exercises allow you to access the involuntary nervous system, and can lead to impressive drops in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. Many audio programs are available to help you learn these simple, yet powerful breathing techniques.
  • Meditation-practiced for thousands of years because of its power to sharpen mental focus and relieve stress. A consistent meditation practice has dramatic health benefits-including a 40% reduced risk of heart attack in those with a history of heart disease.
  • Biofeedback– breathing exercises or muscle relaxation are practiced while scientifically monitoring the body’s response (including heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension or temperature). Feedback from the body helps train the individual to relax quickly and efficiently.
  • Tai Chi-a whole body routine of flowing, gentle movements that originated in China. Benefits include reduced stress and anxiety, in addition to muscle strength and improved balance.
  • Yoga-a true blend of movement and spirituality with a meditative focus that can help to take the edge of stress.
  • Healing Touch and Reiki-practitioners describe an energy field surrounding the body that can be favorably with gentle touching and hand movements around the body. Although the rationale for this therapy may not be easy to understand, many patients report significant benefits in helping to quiet stress and anxiety.
  • Talk Therapy-many forms of talk therapy are available to help manage depression, anxiety and stress. Talk therapy is offered by social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists and may be combined with any of the other strategies noted above.
  • Medication-clearly helpful for the most serious expressions of stress, anxiety, or depression. Again, may be combined with other strategies noted above.
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