4 min|Dr. Jam Caleda
A Happy Heart: The Key to A Healthier LifeWellness
A Link Between Happiness and Heart Health
Our bodies have a remarkable capacity to heal itself, much more quickly than was once realized, particularly, when we simply stop the thing that is causing the problem.
When we look at the core of all the spiritual traditions, past the rituals, dogma, forms and practices that really divide religions, to what the philosopher Aldous Huxley calls ‘The Perennial Wisdom’, it is really about our nature to be happy. We realize that the nuns, monks, priests, rabbis, and swamis didn’t develop these techniques to manage stress, lower blood pressure, unclog arteries, or control blood sugar, even though it can do all those things.
Spiritual practices embody powerful tools for transformation, to quiet down the mind and body to allow us to experience what is feels like to be happy, peaceful, and joyful. Happiness is not a pursuit to a destination but rather something that we innately have already until it is disturbed. So under this bigger context of happiness - how can we prevent and, in many cases, reverse heart disease? What science tells us is that there is a linkage between happiness and heart health.
Negative Emotions Harm The Body
A vast body of scientific literature has detailed how negative emotions harm the body. Sustained stress and fear can alter biological systems that over time add up to illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt the electrical function of the heart, hasten plaque build up in arteries, and increase systemic inflammation.
But negative emotions are only one-half of the equation, because positive mental health bolsters the trajectory toward good cardiovascular health. Dr. Dean Ornish MD, a researcher and professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco has published the profound effects that diet, yoga, and effective stress management has on coronary artery disease (1,2,3). He found that not only does low-cost lifestyle change lead to prevention but it also has the power to reverse heart disease.
Mapping out Happiness
Another researcher, Laura Kubzansky, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, followed 6,000 men and women aged 25-74 for 20 years (4,5). She found that emotional vitality, optimism, supportive social networks, and emotional self-regulation appeared to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by half.
She was also able to show that children who are able to stay focused on a task and have a more positive outlook at age 7 report better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.
What are the keys to a happier, healthier life?
Research suggests that certain personal attributes, whether inborn or shaped by positive life circumstances, help some people avoid many chronic disorders (5).
1. Emotional Vitality
This includes a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness and engagement in the things you are doing. It is the ability to be appropriate in feeling emotions, whether it be sadness, anger, joy, or excitement.
This includes the perspective that good things will generally happen, and importantly to take responsibility for the actions that account for the good things that occur in one’s life.
Having supportive networks of family and friends is a useful tool in helping to manage stressful occurrences in life. Self-regulation: This defines the ability to bounce back from stressful challenges and knowing that things will eventually look up again; and being able to choose healthy behaviors such as physical activity and eating well.
4. Being in the moment
When playing piano play piano. When eating, taste the food, feel the textures, sense the aroma. Everyone must find ways to be in the moment, because it allows for a restorative state away from mental burdens.
One of the biggest struggles though is understanding that it is of no fault for simply not being happy and therefore healthier. There are many factors that attribute to happiness, some of which is genetic, and some of which is environmental.
What is important is to understand is that we must address our well-being to approach heart health. It is not an easy approach but is well worth the effort when combating chronic disease; after all we must turn off the faucet before mopping up the floor.
- Ornish, Dean, et al. "Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease?: The Lifestyle Heart Trial." The Lancet8708 (1990): 129-133.
- Ornish, Dean, et al. "Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease." Jama23 (1998): 2001-2007.
- Ornish, Dean, et al. "Effects of stress management training and dietary changes in treating ischemic heart disease." Jama1 (1983): 54-59.
- Rozanski, Alan, et al. "The epidemiology, pathophysiology, and management of psychosocial risk factors in cardiac practice: the emerging field of behavioral cardiology." Journal of the american college of cardiology 45.5 (2005): 637-651.
- Kubzansky, Laura D., and Ichiro Kawachi. "Going to the heart of the matter: do negative emotions cause coronary heart disease?." Journal of psychosomatic research 48.4 (2000): 323-337.