Happy Hearts

In dedication to my mother, I want to present a new way of looking at heart health; through happiness. 

Health Care Professionals (myself included) and the media exploits the hard stats and the science based risks, “cures” and preventions of cardiovascular disease:

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) IS the number one cause of death in the WORLD.
  • Heart disease (a form of CVD) kills someone in the US every 84 seconds.
  • Controllable risk factors for CVD include:
    • sedentary behavior
    • unhealthy weight
    • high cholesterol
    • high blood pressure
    • poor blood sugar control
    • smoking
  • To prevent CVD you should:
    • be active daily
    • maintain a healthy weight
    • eat a balanced diet
    • don’t smoke or use tobacco
    • have regular check ups with your doctor

But what if I told you that one of the best things you can do for a healthy heart is to be happy?

To me it feels intuitive. To others it may sound naive. So, let’s break it down a little further.

How do you feel when you smile, laugh, give a kiss, get a hug? Personally, I feel good; content; relaxed; elated… happy! These positive emotions calm the systems of the body, including your mind, leading you to make clear and conscious decisions that lend themselves to keeping you in this calm state of being. An upward spiral! Happiness leads to healthy decisions that let you continue to be happy.  

Admittedly, no study has yet been able to find the biological reasoning behind the significant findings that happiness improves our health. There has been little research done at this point, (while ironically there have been numerous scientific studies on the connection of negative emotion, such as stress, fear and anxiety, and poor health).

Heart month

Laura Kubzansky, professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard School of Public Health, has written a number of publications on the connection of emotions on heart disease. She has found, among similar findings, that more optimistic individuals have better cardiovascular health. This is independent of race, age, sex, income and educational level.

Heart health for these individuals was further enhanced by regular activity, good eating habits, healthy weight, lab values within normal ranges and not smoking.

Optimism, hopefulness, high self-worth and self-esteem are linked to making healthy lifestyle choices; leading to a well balanced diet, regular exercise, and away from self destructive behaviors.    

Ok great, you think, happiness can help me have a healthy heart. But how do you MAKE yourself happy? As an emotion, how do you control it?

It is true that we are predisposed from birth for our emotional tolerances; some people are simply born to be more happy! But there is also a significant portion of our emotional tendencies that is learned.

“Happy is he who thinks himself so”

…is a motto I learned from my father at a young age and try to live by daily.

There are such a number of factors that impact our emotional state, on a minute to minute basis.

All we CAN do is cycle back to internal control; TELL yourself you are happy and PRACTICE acts of happiness.

Basics of happiness practice:

  1. smile
  2. laugh
  3. use positive language (in light of hard times)
  4. surround yourself with supportive and loving people

Details on how to accomplish internal happiness:

  1. Keep positive messages where you will see them daily, such as on your computer screen, on sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, printed in bold and placed on your fridge.
    1. “It is going to be a beautiful day”
    2. “I am so lucky to have ________ in my life”
    3. “I love my family!”
    4. “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars”
    5. Other uplifting quotes you know and love?
  2. Give compliments and show gratitude to those around you
  3. Engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy
  4. Learn a new hobby or skill
  5. Volunteer with a local program
  6. Learn meditative, calming exercises
  7. Scrutinize your individual relationships; are they based on positive activities and feelings, or do they breed negative talk and self-destructive actions?

I will leave you with this quote by Dalai Lama,

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it is not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit to worrying whatsoever.”

 

Go out and take control of your happiness!

Resources:

Harvard News. Happiness & Health, The biology of emotion—and what it may teach us about helping people to live longer, Winter 2011. Online at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/

Appleton AA, Kubzansky LD. Emotion regulation and cardiovascular disease risk. In J. Gross (ed.) Handbook of Emotion Regulation, 2nd edition. New York, Guilford Press. 2014.

Hernandez et al. Optimism and Cardiovascular Health: Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). 2015 Jan;2(1):62-73. Online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4509598/pdf/nihms659161.pdf

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