Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Love is Good Medicine

Research Shows Relationships Help Maintain Heart Health

By Maureen Deutermann, MSN, R.N., Director of Community Education

For some of us, it’s an excuse to prolong the chocolate orgy that began around Halloween. For others, it’s another example of crass commercialism sucking in naive consumers. And for some, it is actually a day to celebrate love and romance.

Whatever your view of Valentine’s Day, you’re savvy enough to realize that those whimsical little pink and red hearts adorning Valentine cards don’t resemble or have anything to do with our own pumping heart muscle. Or do they? As a symbol of loving relationships, those cute little hearts surprisingly have a LOT to do with our own hearts. Why? Because a growing number of respected researchers are coming to the conclusion that love is vital to heart health.

Indeed, cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish, considered by many to be the guru of heart health, deals exclusively with this subject in his book Love and Survival, 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health. Dr. Ornish is best known for advocating a super low fat diet that could reverse some heart vessel damage. It is quite noteworthy that this same doctor should have this to say on the healing power of love and intimacy:

“I am not aware of any other factor in medicine -- not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery -- that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes.”

If you think Dr. Ornish is off in left field on this one, he has a lot of distinguished company out there with him. Scientists at Yale University examined degrees of blocked arteries (the culprits responsible for heart attacks and strokes) in 119 men and women. Those who felt the most loved by significant others had markedly less blockage.

Duke University looked at 1,400 male and female heart patients with the aim of measuring the importance of having a close confidant. After five years, those who were unmarried or lacked a confidant were three times more likely to have died than those who had a close confidant.

February is Heart Month, a good time to take stock of your own heart health. Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol regularly. Engage in activities to strengthen your heart such as aerobic exercise, losing excess weight, and tweaking your diet in a healthy (translation: less burgers and fries!) direction. Attend a heart health event offered by Sentara Potomac Hospital.

Just as important, or as Dr. Ornish maintains, more importantly, cultivate your loving relationships. Jump off the Shock Wave Roller Coaster of life and take time to be with yourself as well as others. Learn some quiet “exercises” such as deep breathing or meditation. These help to maintain connection to self.

Connect to others by cherishing and nurturing relationships with family and friends. Practice the art of really listening to those you love. If you have no one to listen to, it’s time to “reach out and touch someone.” There are plenty of folks out there who would make grand friends. Find them by joining a faith group or volunteering.

We are social creatures who thrive not only emotionally but also physically by our connection to each other.

Opening This Summer!
Sentara Heart and Vascular Center at Potomac Hospital. Residents in our community will now have the option of receiving cardiovascular care closer to home with the new array of services to be offered. Learn more here.