Proper Care and Nourishment for a Healthy Heart

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With every organ, system, and appendage dependent upon the continuous peak performance of the heart, it would seem reasonable to pay at least as much attention to maintaining heart health as we do to more cosmetic concerns of the body.  While oatmeal boxes promote the “heart healthy” benefits of high fiber foods and most everyone knows doing aerobic exercise, eating a diet packed with fresh fruits and vegetables, staying away from saturated fats, and finding ways to relieve stress are all good practices, don’t we all sometimes wonder what else we might do to keep our hearts from ever missing a beat? 

Although proper nutrition and exercise is key, it is more than speculation to suggest that the heart has nutritional needs above and beyond both diet and exercise, in order to be properly cared for and well nourished.  While it’s easy to think about the Cupid connection and the idea that the heart thrives on love, a study led by Dr. Jan Astrom and published in Comprehensive Psychology showed a hug lasting ten seconds or more can help lower risk of heart disease.  Such a hug was shown to lower blood pressure, raise levels of positive hormones like oxytocin, and reduce stress chemicals like cortisol.  As the skin’s network of miniscule corpuscles directly connects positive sensations of touch to various organs in the body, including the heart, it appears our spirits may be lifted, our tensions eased, and the heart better nourished with just a loving squeeze!

Then, as researchers from Carnegie Mellon University recently discovered, another way to lower rates of hypertension is through volunteering.  A four-year study of older adults showed individuals who volunteered at least 200 hours during their initial interview were 40 percent less likely to develop hypertension than those who did not.  Regardless of the activity, researchers suggest volunteering provides opportunities to strengthen social connections, something known to promote healthy aging and reduce risk for a variety of unhealthy potentials.   

Similarly, friendship has been known to promote the release of oxytocin, having a calming effect and being of positive benefit as a kind of spiritual nutrition for the heart that translates to the physical, as well.  T. Rutledge, et al. found having a strong support system to be a critical factor in a study of 500 women for whom coronary artery disease was suspected, observing decreased mortality, lower rates of hypertension and diabetes, and less abdominal fat.  Also, the spiritual nutrition close friendship provides individuals who suffer such health challenges as a heart attack results in their faring much better in recovery than those who do not have such support.  In fact, it has been shown that it does not take a large network for such positive results to occur and that having even one close friend can add as much as ten years to one’s life! 

Of course, who would want to leave out man’s best friend?  While there are many alternatives worth trying, keeping pets is yet one more way known to nourish the heart, as pet owners have shown less signs of heart disease and pet-owning heart attack patients have shown longer rates of survival than individuals who do not have pets.

MCE invites you to participate in commercial-free continuing medical education on the subject of proper care and nutrition for maintaining a healthy heart, at Cardiology Review for Primary Care, December 27-29, 2013, at the Disney Beach & Yacht Club Resorts, Walt Disney World, Florida.

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