Cultivating a Happy and Healthy Heart
It’s not just about diet and exercise. It’s also about our outlook on life. In the past decade there have been many studies showing a link between our thoughts or attitude and our heart health. This month we want to provide information on how to nourish yourself to keep your heart healthy AND happy. In a 2007 Harvard study by professor Kubzansky it was determined that, “a sense of enthusiasm, of hopefulness, of engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance—appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” And the great thing is that about 40% of what determines happiness is under one’s control.
Behavioral tips for a happy healthy heart:
Meditation: Any practice of mindfulness whether a short minute or a long hour is beneficial for grounding ourselves and our emotions, making us aware of how we feel physically and emotionally. Regular practice can lower heart rate, improve blood flow, reduce and manage stress
Exercise: Finding an activity that gets you moving and that you enjoy (add friends to your walk, participate in classes, learn a new sport)
Regularly enjoy a hobby: It was found in the early stages of heart disease that daily hobbies may improve cardiovascular health by dilating your heart more easily, improving blood flow. (2)
Practice Gratitude: Journaling daily what you are thankful for has been shown to decrease inflammation and reduce cardiac risk (3). Put this into practice using a diary on your own or adopt it as a pre-dinner family ritual, you can be thankful for something big or small.
Adopting Social Support: Develop positive relationships with others, whether family members, friends, co-workers, or those with similar interests. Interacting with others has a positive effect on heart health by reducing inflammation and improving blood pressure according to the National Institute on Aging.
Great resources: Local counselors, therapists, or social workers
Also check out the Harvard Health Website on Positive Psychology: https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/positive-psychology
Dietary tips for a healthy heart:
Reduce sodium by cooking more from scratch, restaurant foods and packaged foods contain much higher amounts of sodium
Stay hydrated by consuming water throughout the day as dehydration makes your heart have to work harder
Increase fiber intake through lentils, beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts or seeds to help naturally lower LDL “bad” cholesterol
Avoid trans fats by reading labels and avoiding packaged foods that contain the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list (this ingredient puts you at higher risk for a heart attack or stroke)
Great resources: Local dietitians and the American Heart Association’s website
There are many ways to improve our heart health, we just have to be willing to put in the effort. Tell yourself “I am worth it” and take action, putting yourself on the top of the to-do list. Adopt a strategy of creating new lifestyle habits slowly over time to make changes more manageable. You’ll look back in a year and think, “Wow, I’ve come a long way!”
- Rimer, Sara. Harvard TH Chan of Public Health. Winter 2011. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/happiness-stress-heart-disease/
- Saihara, K., Hamasaki, S., Ishida, S. et al. Heart Vessels (2010) 25:113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00380-009-1173-y.
- Mills, Paul, et al. “The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-Being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients”. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, published online April 6, 2015
Vanessa Imus, MS, RD, CD, is a Registered Dietitian providing nutrition education and counseling to patients at the University of Washington Weight Loss Management Center. She enjoys being active through running, hiking, exercise classes or dance games, and chasing her toddler. Her favorite past time is dreaming about and planning vacations.