It may be an age old symbol of emotion, but everyone knows that the human heart is really nothing more than a pump. Or is it? New research suggests a direct link between your state of mind and the state of your heart. Here’s how to keep it ticking happily.
You’ve seen it on TV. A hospital humming with urgent activity, the echo of footsteps on shiny floors, a roomful of white coated figures, and an unbroken note that pierces the air. A flurry of gloves, a jolt of electrical energy, and the note shifts into a regular, rhythmic pattern. The human heart, pulsing back into life.
But the industrious organ that shepherds your blood and its vital cargo of oxygen through the body is also an age old symbol of emotion. Be it aching or breaking or brimming with love, the heart has always overruled the brain as the supposed wellspring of the way we feel.
As it turns out, this may not be such a fanciful notion. A growing body of clinical research seems to confirm what poets and songwriters have long proclaimed. There’s a real and direct link between our hearts and our minds. Or to put it in the language of the white coated figure; psychosocial factors may present stronger risks for acute myocardial infarction than diabetes, smoking, hypertension and obesity. Which means that stress at work or home, along with your perceived ability to cope with life, can significantly increase your risk of heart disease. The mortality rate in heart failure patients with major depression is two and a half times higher than in heart patients without depression.
Yet, depression in heart failure patients often goes undiagnosed. This is partly because of the overlap in the symptoms of the two conditions (among them: fatigue, loss of energy, poor appetite, and sleep disturbance) and partly because many patients see depression as a character weakness or personality flaw, when it’s really a common clinical condition that affects as many as one out of five patients with heart disease.
It is here that the big question of cause and effect comes to mind. Is depression a natural consequence of the life changing impact of heart failure? Or is heart failure a likely outcome of the physical effects of depression? The answer, in both cases, is yes. If you’re depressed or anxious, you are more likely to develop a cardiovascular problem. How, exactly?
A heart attack is cause by a blocked blood vessel to the heart and depression is one of the known contributors to the development of such a blockage. Inside the blood vessels we find the lumen, where the blood is able to flow. Factors such as smoking, high cholesterol and depression can cause fatty deposits to accumulate on the wall, forming a plaque that juts into the lumen. If this plaque becomes damaged or ruptured, your body’s repair system shoots to the rescue, building a blood clot to patch up the gash.
But the clot also seals off the artery’s lumen, blocking the blood flow and leading to possible bypass surgery. Depression is a risk factor for heart disease, but heart disease is also a cause of depression. When your heart is heavy, you may lose your natural inclination to get out and get active, and you’re more likely to drink and smoke and eat the wrong things. Heart failure patients should be screened for depression and treated when depression is found to be present. This may help to improve the patient’s quality of life, and potentially improve long term outcomes.
But it’s not only all up to the doctors. We all need to learn how to make our hearts happy. The heart is an easy organ to please. It all begins with proper exercise and nutrition. Nobody can change their family history, but we can all do something about the foods we eat and the activities we do.
A healthy diet consists of the four essentials: Fats, Fiber, Fruit and Vegetables.
Your body doesn’t need a lot of fat to stay healthy, so try to keep your fat intake low. Fiber is a must because it lowers your cholesterol and fills you up so you eat less. Physical activity is equally important. It boosts your circulation, reduces stress levels and stimulates the release of happy hormones or endorphins. Even if you have a heart condition, exercise can help you get back on track.
Goal number one? Do whatever it takes to keep your heart happy. Love your body. Live your life. And above all, never lose heart.