When I see people sweating it out in the gym, my attention is often drawn to those who have converted this healthy regimen into a tedious ritual, an ordeal, or a mind-numbing drudgery. Exercise helps the heart greatly, if it is joyous and pleasurable. The secret lies not only in the “sweat” excreted but also in the “smile” of the neuroendocrinological system. The mind and the organs are in constant dialogue and symphony with each other; if one does not feel good, the other also fails to be healthy.
The mind influences the heart immensely
Negative thoughts and feelings can impair the heart’s functioning, while positive thoughts work for its well-being. People hide their feelings or fail to accept their emotions. Take the example of an executive who has been given the pink slip. When asked how he feels about it, he replies “My boss is partial”. Unfortunately, it takes a while for men to recognise frustrations and disappointments and come to terms with it. It is important to identify emotions, accept, acknowledge, experience and exhaust them fully. This catharsis [pumping out of emotions] is important for health and the heart.
Take another example of a girl who felt that she was perpetually wronged and had a long hate list. Studies have amply indicated that consistent hostility changes the way the heart behaves and can affect the lining of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. The pipes can narrow and affect its nourishment.
What happens to us when we are pushed by our bosses to fulfil gruelling deadlines? We exert, strain and put additional pressure on ourselves. If this strenuous situation continues for long, the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal circuit gets disturbed causing a load on the heart and other parts of the body. What can help calm the body and mind are breathing techniques of yoga and vippassana. It relaxes the breathing and the heart rate, thereby relaxing the autonomic nervous system.
Unhappy emotions in excess are damaging
Sadness is a positive emotion, normally experienced by everyone. However, when it becomes excessive or continues for a long time, it can lead to depression. Symptoms of depression such as lack of interest in work, or relationships, poor appetite, and unexplained tiredness should never be ignored. They need to be identified early, and treated. Depression is one of the major risk factors that lead to heart illnesses.
Similarly, if grief – following retirement, or death of a relative or close friend – continues over an extended period, the body, especially the heart, is put to risk. Excessive sadness causes the release of negative chemical substances that affects the blood vessels of the heart and its rhythm. Hence, those who take long to recover from a tragedy or to come out of grief should be taken to a counsellor.
I get many patients, who are always on the edge, their emotions see-sawing between anxiety and tension. I remember this teacher who was perpetually anxious about the performance of her students and whether her kids would do well in their exams. Her concern was that if they did badly, the management would not think highly of her. She was wracked by a host of fears. This led to hypertension and borderline heart ailments. Intensive counselling to change her attitude towards life worked.
The mind could be compared to an orchestra, where each piece of music or emotion has a role to play. Each should be experienced as and when it plays. Blocking a tune can cause explosions in different parts of the body. It is important to be normal and accept one’s emotions.
Happiness – your best medicine
Since there is such a critical link between heart and emotions, for a healthy heart, build your stock of positive feelings like love, warmth, affection, caring, and friendliness. Just as negative emotions can interfere with smooth functioning of the heart, positive thoughts and mind-set can help the heart to perform better.
Doctors point out that when there is positivity and cheerfulness within, not only does the heart beat become smoother and more coherent, but the body as a whole also tends to benefit. Positive heart rhythms enhance immunity, nervous system and hormonal balance. Emotional stability also boosts productivity and brings in more peace and happiness.
Laugh your heart out
There is enough research done and evidence to draw co-relations between happiness and good health. Studies indicate that patients who were shown comedies and feel-good films, and exposed to peaceful and calm environment recuperated faster than those who were not. In fact, happy people with optimistic outlook have been successfully able to fight life-threatening diseases of the heart and even many critical illnesses.
Hence, it would be wise to assemble a library of funny films, delightful books and soothing music. Keep flowers on your table if it makes you happy, or stick cartoon strips on your cupboard if it brings a smile to your face every time you open it. The thing to do is to develop a good sense of humour and laugh a lot everyday. People who have joined laughter clubs talk in high spirits about its advantages. It keeps them fresh and gives them energy for the whole day.
Happiness is easy
Actually, come to think of it, being positive is simpler and cheaper than popping pills, visiting shrinks or emptying out your pockets at clinics and hospitals. Positive thinking, coupled with regular exercise and healthy diet, can become the most powerful tool to remain fit – both in body and mind.
Thus, junk negativity as much as possible and stay away from gloomy situations, friends, environment and emotions. Since many disorders are stress-related, it is judicious to build on your happiness quotient to achieve that ideal mental, physical, spiritual and emotional equilibrium. A good, mental health goes a long way in building good health. So be positive, always.
– Team CW