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Why It’s Heart Healthy to Love Your Life!

February 13, 2014

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From Valentine’s Day professions of love to National Heart Awareness Month, February gives us a lot of reasons to think about that all-important muscle, the heart. In addition to all the love talk, this means talking about heart disease prevention and the real risk factors. Heart disease is the number one killer of women over 20, and just having a family history of cardiac problems ups your risk.

We all know that diet and exercise are important for staving off heart problems, but they’re only part of the equation. Turns out that all the thoughts running through your mind about your relationships, job, family, and personal life intimately affect how your heart functions. That’s what researchers from Harvard School of Public Health found when they surveyed people about their overall life satisfaction in these key areas. Those who reported they were “highly satisfied” were less likely to have a heart attack in the next 5 years, compared to those who had self-reported low satisfaction. Simply put, when you love life, your heart knows it. That should get your blood pumping.

When it comes to matters of the heart, feeling happy and fulfilled is integral to cardiovascular wellness. The heart and mind are interconnected; when you’re stressed, depressed, or anxious, your heart instantly reacts— your pulse picks up, your blood pressure increases, your arteries are constricted, and stress hormones are released.

On the flipside, your body physically responds to happiness and optimism, and feeling good may literally restore balance and safeguard your entire system. A recent study in the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine found individuals that were hopeful and positive about the future actually had higher levels of heart-healthy antioxidants and carotenoids like beta-carotene in their systems. Researchers couldn’t pinpoint whether optimism led to an increase of antioxidants in the body or vice versa, but felt that either way being hopeful is a healthy, bio-protective move.  

The case for loving life is compelling. Studies have found that everything from having a strong social network to being satisfied with your career decreases your risk of developing heart problems. But if you’re going through a particularly rough patch, it can be difficult to perk up and see the bright side, even when you know the health benefits. Try some of these heart-healthy and optimism-boosting tips to help you fall back in love with life.

Remember what it feels like to be your best self! Think of a moment in your life when you were being your own beautiful, genuine self and how that made you feel. Let this feeling liberate you from any negativity that’s holding you back from truly maximizing your potential. Daydream about it, replay the emotional state in your mind, and call on it for instant inspiration. Through this practice, your heart will feel lighter and more open.

Find something—anything—to get wildly excited about. Whether it’s training to run in a half-marathon, an awesome new smoothie recipe, or a cool work project that you’re completely psyched about, share your unrestrained enthusiasm and let yourself brag and glow. Get in the daily practice of making your own bright energy that you share and spread to others. Your heart will respond to this vitality.

Create special bonds with close connections. A three o’clock coffee break routine with your hilarious coworker, a weekly phone call to reminisce with your childhood bestie, or even starting a little ritual with your partner such as sending a mid-day text with an inside joke, may help strengthen your emotional connections in a fun and meaningful way. Every heart loves a good friend.

How do you live your life with all your heart? Tell us in comments.