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Healthy Living

February is American Heart Month

heart

Happy Hearts are Healthy Hearts

by Pam - Healthy Living Newsletter Staff

There is more than a grain of truth to the cliché "Laughter is the best medicine."

Research has revealed good news and bad news about how emotions affect our health. The good news is that positive emotions; like love, compassion, caring, and gratitude; trigger positive changes in our heart rate, blood pressure, and immune system. However, during periods of stress, anger, or worry the opposite occurs.

Yesterday's stress can hurt you today (if you let it)

A study at the University of California, Irvine examined the effect of arguing on cardiovascular health. The results suggest that emotional stress does more harm than physical stress, in part because of our tendency to revisit the emotions in our minds. Participants who remembered moments of emotional stress (such as an argument) experienced a rise in blood pressure that did not occur when remembering moments of physical stress (such as walking on a treadmill). While the link between chronic stress and heart disease has been well documented, few studies had previously examined the effects of individual stressful events.

While we may not to be able to totally eliminate stress in our lives, we can reduce its effect on our cardiovascular health. This study shows that to reduce the effect of a stressful event, we need to avoid dwelling on it. There are many reasons to avoid revisiting stressful events. When experiencing stress and anger (due to current or remembered events) the body retains excess sodium and fluids, which raise blood pressure. In addition, stress causes the level of cortisol to rise in our bodies. Cortisol suppresses the immune system. Participants in one study felt angry for a single 5-minute period. As a result, their immune response slowed for up to six hours, leaving them more susceptible to colds, flu, and respiratory disease.

It's never too late for change

In a Duke University study, heart disease patient who learned to relax and meditate had a 74% drop in subsequent heart disease and strokes. If you don't enjoy meditating there are many ways to relax. In fact, by looking for enjoyable ways to relax you set up a "virtuous cycle" where the healthy behavior is self-rewarding. Even small changes, like stopping to look at the sky and breathe deeply before you get into your car, can have positive effects. Going for a walk, renting a funny movie and laughing out loud, talking with a friend, or enjoying a hobby can all combat the effect of stress on your heart's health.

"We should all learn to laugh more. Perhaps its good for our hearts."
-British Heart Foundation spokeswoman

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