Heart Disease is one of the biggest “silent” killers of our time, but it doesn’t need to be.
A healthy heart is indicative of being able to express our emotions openly. In its full expression, the heart allows us to connect to others from a deeper, empathic level.
From a purely physical perspective, the heart is the body’s brain. Surprising to many, the heart has more nerve-fibers leading to the brain than the brain has leading to the heart. The heart contains non-logical intelligence about every system in the body.
In fact, the Director of Research the HeartMath Institute, Rollin McCraty wrote in a paper, The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People, that the heart is a sensory organ that “acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions.”
Moreover, the heart’s electromagnetic field is about 60 times that of the brain!
This odd fact – that our heart isn’t just a big pump – also gives us our first clue as to how to care for our hearts.
By honoring the heart’s intelligence, and supporting it to do more than just pump blood to our organs and limbs, we can experience true heart health.
But first, let’s look at the purely physiological components of heart health.
Lifestyle Choices for a Healthy Heart
Your lifestyle choices can affect your heart health deeply. If you smoke, eat too much junk food, are constantly stressed out, and never get out in the sunshine for a vigorous walk and some fresh air – of course your heart is going to suffer.
All the organs of the body are affected by chronic inflammation. The heart is no different. The build-up of fatty plaques, caused by chronic inflammation can lead to blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes.
Chronic inflammation can be remedied though, simply by changing your diet, and exercise habits, as well as lowering stress.
Diet and Exercise
One of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy heart is by eating well and staying physically active. Here’s why and how:
- The heart thrives on a plant-based diet. Research from Harvard has determined that plant-based protein is digested more easily by the body. Meat, particularly red meat can cause acidity, inflammation, and “thick” blood which doesn’t travel through our veins and arteries well, causing our hearts to over work.
- Healthy fats for the heart are essential. Most people who eat by Western standards eat far too many trans fats. These are the kind of fats that they will fry your French Fries in at a fast food restaurant, or sneak into many packaged foods that you buy at the grocery store. People also eat too many Omega 6 fatty acids and not enough Omega 3 fatty acids. The correct ratio should be 2:1, with the higher number representing Omega 3 fatty acids that can be found in foods like avocadoes, hemp seeds, and flax seed oils.
- Just 30 mins of exercise 5 days a week helps to keep the heart healthy. Exercise is important to the heart because just like our other muscles, the heart needs to be used to get better at what it does. We need to exercise the heart in expressing our emotions – to give love to others and ourselves. This is one form of exercise, but on the physical level the heart needs to get “pumping” in order to become more efficient at moving blood around the body, and pulling oxygen from the blood that moves through it.
- Abstaining from smoking and drinking is vital. Smoking alone can cause the heart to start to malfunction. Smoking obliterates oxygen in the blood supply and causes toxic build up everywhere in the body. While drinking a few glasses or red wine a few times a week may even help your heart, more research shows a close correlation between excessive drinking and heart disease. Alcohol stops blood clotting, but it also causes acidity and in excess contributes to inflammation which causes plaque build-up in the arteries.
- Lowering stress might be the most overlooked component to a healthy heart. When we are constantly stressed, this also leads to chronic inflammation. It also leads to other heart-damaging activities like eating poorly, depression, obesity, smoking, drinking too much, and more.
Emotional Choices that Support a Healthy Heart
Most people think that when they’ve been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, they should simply look to the typical culprits – high cholesterol, smoking, a poor diet, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, bad genes, etc., but there is much more to heart health than just these factors.
- Anger, anxiety, and depression have a profound effect on the heart’s ability to function as it should.
- First, there are the physiological effects of the emotional habits of anger, fear, cynicism, and depression.
- You can probably relate to this if we outline an example from a typical day in someone’s life in the modern world.
- You get out of bed to a screaming alarm after having gone to sleep too late, and overly exhausted.
- Everything then goes wrong from the very start.
The previous day’s demands were never truly digested and reflected upon, so instead of feeling whatever slight emotions you may have been feeling – like a small ting of frustration at your boss for changing the direction on a project you were working on yet again, or your children forgetting to bring their homework home from school – we just stuff those emotions down.
Then we hurriedly get ready for work, still exhausted, remember, and rush to an office building to sit at a desk for 8 hours straight (or more).
On the way to work, another driver slams on his breaks in the car in front of us for no apparent reason, and we bite our tongues with frustration once again.
“What a jerk,” you think, “I almost ran right into him!”
Meanwhile that driver is talking on the phone to his wife while he’s driving to his job, and she’s upset with him because he forgot to pick up the dry cleaning. He’s completely oblivious to the accident he almost caused because he is entrenched in his own stressful dialogue with his wife.
And so, the day goes on in this way – and we’ve only barely gotten to 9 AM. There are still many more hours of responsibilities, and frustrations, disappointments, and challenges to face.
The way the modern world is set up, we don’t get to process our emotions in real time. Even our ancestors, who had to face the emotions of fear or frustration when running from a lion, only felt the stress and adrenaline of running for their lives in a small moment of the day.
Once an immediate danger subsided, they could go back to feeling relatively peaceful, and unruffled. Their minds and hearts could reflect on the experience. Their heart rates returned to normal relatively quickly. They stopped sweating. The could loosen their grip on their spears.
In the modern world, we seldom allow ourselves a moment to sit behind a bush, feeling safe and secure, in quiet solitude, to allow the dangers of the day to simply drift away.
This causes two things to happen.
- We live in a state of constant high alert. Our blood vessels dilate a bit and our hearts literally shrink, emotionally.
- We begin a feed-back loop of feeling more stressed at lesser and lesser “triggering events,” thereby never feeling truly relaxed and at peace.
In an article written by The Atlantic titled, “Do Negative Emotions, Stress, and Anxiety Lead to Heart Disease?” we learn that the resounding answer is YES!
Truly expressing our emotions can alleviate a big burden from our hearts. There is even research which suggests that the stronger and more frequent bouts of anger we engage in – the higher the risk for heart disease.
Why is this? Anger is simply pent up energy from un-expressed emotions. The same is true of frustration. Anger is actually a by-product of fear, hurt and sadness which we were never allowed, or didn’t feel safe expressing to ourselves or others.
Reducing stress has a profound effect on the heart’s health. It allows us to process emotions in real time so that they don’t accumulate, and turn us into a ticking time-bomb of unexpressed anger and frustration. Stress reduction also has a profound effect on our hearts.
To wit, when we are in a fight-or-flight fury, the adrenal medulla of the brain starts to produce a cascade of stress hormones that make the heart work even harder than it already does. The secretion of catecholamines, especially norepinephrine and epinephrine., along with the hormones estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol, as well as the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, also affect how organisms react to stress. Each of these hormones affect the heart in different ways.
You can try yoga, meditation, far infrared therapy, qi gong, acupuncture, or just simple deep breathing exercises to reduce stress. By doing this you can feel and digest your emotions in a healthy way, and start to exercise your heart the way it was meant to be used – to express love and gratitude for all that surrounds you.