By: Catherine Cooley, CHWC
The buzz on heart health and preventing heart disease is at an all-time high, and for good reason. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for one out of four deaths, and continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States.
Over the past century, the trifecta of a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and increased stress has taken a toll on our health — and our hearts. The good news is that this epidemic has led to some amazing research and discoveries over the past decade. Today, we have more knowledge than ever on how to prevent heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes.
There’s no doubt that healthy eating, regular physical activity, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight is essential for heart health. So powerful, in fact, those who check “yes” to all four of these reduce their risk for all chronic diseases by roughly 80 percent. In addition to these more commonly known lifestyle behaviors, there are other ways we can protect our hearts. Taking into consideration the way we live our lives, our environment, and the interconnection between our mind, body and spirit (known as holistic health), it can make a big difference. Research on the benefits of holistic health is still in its infancy, although emerging studies suggest its powerful influence over our health, especially the health of our hearts.
Here are five simple, surprising steps to keep our hearts healthy.
- Spend time with people you love. The heart is known as the universal symbol of love. So, is it a scientific coincidence to think that the act of loving another, whether it’s your parent, sibling, spouse or friend, can actually improve your heart health? According to research published in Psychosomatic Medicine, spending time with your loved ones may lower your blood pressure. What’s more, researchers from the University of Vienna found that the hormone oxytocin was released into the bloodstream when hugging a loved one. This hormone helps lower blood pressure, reduce stress and ease anxiety — all important for heart health.
- Laugh often. Laughter may be the best source of our natural medicine. The simple act of laughter has powerful physical and emotional benefits such as: reducing stress, depression, strengthening our immune system and easing pain. Emerging studies also show the powerful effect it can have on our heart health. Recent research from the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine found that laughter actually helps to expand our blood vessels — enabling blood to flow more freely to our heart. These results were so significant that they were found to produce a similar benefit as aerobic exercise or statin use.
- Get enough sleep. We all know that great feeling after waking up from a good night’s sleep. It seems every health journal is touting the innumerable benefits sleep can bring, and for good reason. Not only can a good night’s sleep help keep us alert, aid in weight loss and improve memory, but it can also play a key role in keeping our hearts healthy. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that our risk of coronary artery calcification (a cause of heart disease) declines by 33 percent for every extra hour of sleep we add to our nightly average. Like many other health habits, the key is consistency. For heart health, it is recommended to get between seven to nine hours a night.
- Floss Daily. Keeping your gums in shape has been tied to the prevention of heart disease. Researchers from Columbia University studied 420 adults for three years and found that improvement in gum health directly correlated to a slower progression of plaque buildup lining the wall of their arteries. Now the importance of flossing extends beyond your smile, it has significant health benefits.
- Play with your pet. A pet may be your heart’s best friend. According to Harvard Medical School, several studies have shown that owning a pet is associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels — leading to healthier hearts. The “pet effect” in part is due to the power of touch, which has a calming effect,shown to help alleviate stress. Dog owners were especially receptive to heart-protecting benefits, likely because dog owners tend to get more exercise.
No matter where you’re at in your health journey, there are simple things you can do to improve. Whether it be through learning, trying something new or changing up an old routine. The power of holistic health is opening our eyes to other practices we can adopt to keep our health in top condition and live our healthiest lives.
About the Author: Catherine Cooley, CHWC, is a Health Coach in the Wellness Department at Priority Health. She is passionate about supporting Priority Health members improve their health through lifestyle change and achieving their personal best. Catherine is a lifestyle coach through the National Kidney Foundation’s Diabetes Prevention Program and has a background in weight management and corporate wellness programming.