Stress is a normal part of life. But if left unmanaged, stress can lead to emotional, psychological, and even physical problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, chest pains, or irregular heart beats.
Even if you are healthy in every other aspects, especially when you’re the type who exercises often and eat vegetables regularly, stress can still affect your heart. When you’re under chronic stress, your immune system produces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and inflammatory proteins called cytokines, including interleukin-6. This chronic inflammation leads to hardening of the arteries and heart disease.
The good news is that positive emotions are like a healing balm. They obliterate the effects of stress and lead to vitality and well-being. And even if you’re not a naturally happy or optimistic person, you can take steps to make over your mind from negative to positive. Even minor things, like human touch or playing with pets, can have a dramatic impact on mood, emotional well-being, the quality of sleep and our ability to relax. Here are little ways to make your day brighter—and your heart healthier.
1. Laughter is Still the Best Medicine
Laugh at least once a day. When researchers compared blood flow in people who watched a highly stressful movie (Saving Private Ryan) compared to people who watched a comedy like Saturday Night Live, they documented a 35 percent reduction in blood flow during the stressful movie and a 22 percent increase in circulation among those who laughed and enjoyed themselves. This increase in blood flow is on par with results from some of the most established prescription medications.
2. Count your Blessings
Count your blessings. This simple act of gratitude leads to health and happiness. When University of Connecticut psychologist Glenn Affleck interviewed 287 people recovering from a heart attack, he found that people who found a positive benefit from the heart attack (such as becoming closer to family as a result) were less likely to suffer another heart attack within the next eight years. Research from the University of California at Davis has found that a daily gratitude practice can boost immunity, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep quality.
3. Get Busy
Sexual intimacy and activity can be both preventive and healing in heart disease. Men who have sex at least twice a week reduce their risk of heart attack by half, compared to men who have sex only about once a month. Not even aspirin has that kind of effect! (Similar studies are not available in women, but there’s no reason to assume sex isn’t just as good for the fairer sex).
If you have heart issues and are worried about dropping dead of a heart attack in the process, let me reassure you. Sexual intimacy is about as taxing on the body as light exercise. If you feel safe power walking or climbing two flights of stairs, you should feel safe in the bedroom.
4. Cuddle with a Pet
Many years ago, Dr. Erika Friedman studied 92 patients who had been admitted to a cardiac care unit for a heart attack or serious angina heart pain episode. She gathered information on pet ownership. A year after their discharge, 94 percent of pet owners were still alive, whereas only 71 percent of patients without pets were.
Other research shows that merely talking to or petting a dog can help drive down blood pressure—even if the dog isn’t yours, and amazingly, even if you don’t like dogs. If you can’t or don’t want to own a pet, consider volunteering with therapy dogs or at an animal shelter.