Tag Archives: Relaxation Techniques

Deepak Chopra: The Path from Heart Disease to Heart Health

 You might have heard the expression “You’re as young as your arteries,” and it’s true. But keeping your arteries young can seem like a mysterious thing for many people, as much as they feel inundated by an unending stream of research findings. Now some clarity is at hand, and it’s worth pausing to consider.

The cardiovascular continuum is a way of stepping back and thinking about cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), as being later complications in a long chain of events. These events begin with risk factors for cv disease, such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, diabetes and high blood pressure. The risks can start early, even in childhood. If these risk factors aren’t addressed, your cardiovascular health gets progressively worse over a period of decades. It’s a long but inexorable road, and at the end you won’t be as young as your arteries but, sadly, as old.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that since cardiovascular disease is mostly the result of having an unhealthy lifestyle, unhealthy choices can be turned around. Usually the process of slow, accumulating damage can be prevented. The earlier in the continuum it’s caught and treated, the better your outlook.

Danger Signals Most of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease involve damage to your arteries. Some risk factors can be modified, and some can’t. The more cardiovascular risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop cardiovascular disease.

• Unmanaged high blood pressure causes your arteries to stiffen and thicken to defend against the abnormally high pressure inside them.
• Poor diet, like eating too many refined carbs, trans fats and processed foods, wreaks havoc with your blood glucose levels and creates inflammation in your arteries.
• Unmanaged diabetes creates high levels of blood glucose (blood sugar). At high levels, glucose is toxic to your arteries and capillaries.
• Smoking allows toxins like carbon monoxide and nicotine into your delicate lung tissue and bloodstream, damaging your arteries and all the tissues of your body.
• Being physically inactive causes you to lose muscle tone, promotes weight gain, weakens your heart and lungs, and makes your joints stiff and prone to injury.
• Obesity increases the workload of your heart and creates systemic inflammation. Childhood obesity has become an 
epidemic.

Healthy Heart Steps As you can see, it’s a good idea to take your cardiovascular health seriously. If you do, the chances are excellent that your heart and blood vessels will last you a long, healthy lifetime.

Here’s what you can do to prevent cardiovascular disease or stop it in its tracks:

Lose weight. When your weight is at a healthy level, you have a lowered risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, some forms of cancer and many other disorders and diseases.

Eat whole foods. Avoid eating “white foods” — white sugar, white flour, potatoes, white rice — and trans fats, found in commercial baked goods and fried fast foods. Instead, eat whole grains and lots of whole fruits and vegetables, which are high in fiber and keep carbohydrates from breaking down too fast in your body. Choose lean proteins, like fish, lean meat and soy products, such as tempeh. Use olive oil for cooking and dressings. Nuts and seeds aren’t low calorie, but they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that fight inflammation and improve your blood lipid profile.

Quit smoking. Just one year after quitting, risk of coronary heart disease is reduced to half that of a smoker. You’ll feel better, look better, smell better — and you’ll regain your sense of smell, too.

Be activeExercise not only lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, it also reduces stress and helps prevent many other diseases, including cancer. Being physically active also regulates your metabolism, improves your body’s use of insulin, helps keep your weight normal and benefits blood pressure. If you really don’t like to exercise, there are plenty of others ways to get moving, like playing sports, dancing or taking the stairs.

Manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Both can damage blood vessels and cause heart disease if uncontrolled. If you have diabetes but control your blood glucose levels, you reduce your risk of having any cardiovascular disease event (such as a heart attack) by 42 percent. Know where you stand by having regular checkups and keeping track of your blood lipid levels and blood pressure readings.

Relax. For the sake of your health and happiness — particularly your cardiovascular health — make some form of relaxation a regular part of your daily schedule. When you relax, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to counter the effects of your sympathetic nervous system — if your sympathetic nervous system is an accelerator, then your parasympathetic nervous system is the brake. Cortisol levels drop and your heart rate slows, blood vessels dilate, breathing slows and deepens, and blood pressure drops to normal.

Oxytocin enhances this process. It acts as both a hormone and a neuropeptide, released from the bloodstream and also by nerve centers in the brain. Oxytocin triggers reactions that enhance your ability to de-stress and also to behave calmly in stressful situations. Not only does it immediately relieve stress symptoms, like high blood pressure, but it’s also been found have long-term calming effects — up to three weeks. Animal studies have revealed that the heart tissue has oxytocin receptors. Dopamine is a hormone and neuropeptide associated with pleasure and reward. Evidence has been found of dopamine receptors in the human heart as well — more evidence of the strong link between your brain and your heart.

There are many ways to relax. Meditation can be an adjustment at first, but continued practice will bring a sense of peace and joy that will carry over into your entire day. Meditation lowers levels of the “stress hormone,” cortisol. Meditation has also been found to lead to increases in the size of areas of the brain involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking.

Yoga and Tai Chi can relieve stress while improving your strength and flexibility. Aerobic exercise can be a great stress reliever. It’s been found to raise your brain’s levels of endorphins, natural opiates that are responsible for the “runner’s high.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treat yourself well. Your cardiovascular health is in your own hands!

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr / sbluerock

Weekly Health Tip: The Power of Meditation

Visualization is the courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

The stress and strife of daily life have a direct effect on our health. Most dramatically, our very chromosomes are affected by stress. Telomeres are the end tips of our chromosomes, little caps that protect our DNA. (The bright spots in the above visualization of a chromosome are the telomeres.)

Telomeres play an important role in cell division, and get a bit shorter every time a cell divides. In studies, subjects with inherently stressful lives—notably mothers of special-needs children and spouses of dementia sufferers—showed extraordinary wear and tear on their telomeres. The stress-induced disruption to their cells’ life cycle actually caused them to age faster. But an enzyme called telomerase maintains and repairs the telomeres, prolonging the life of our cells. Increasing telomerase is a way to slow telomeres’ unraveling. And guess how we can we do that? Meditation.

An exciting 2010 study showed that people in an intensive meditation practice had greater telomerase activity in their immune cells than those who did not meditate. Scientists are working to gather even more information about how mindful awareness and other stress reduction techniques can help us live longer and more healthfully.

Those who have never attempted a meditation practice may feel unsure about beginning. Do I have to study anything, buy anything? No. There are many ways to meditate, and you may enjoy learning about many of them, but mindful awareness should never feel like hard work or a formal program. Meditation is, by definition, not trying. Start by taking 20 minutes to close your eyes and sit still. Find the quiet in your mind. Focus on one thing: Yourself doing nothing. Be aware of your breathing, let your muscles relax, and let go of your daily concerns. If you are thinking about the future or remembering the past, your mind is not in the present. The goal is for your mind to be only in the present. Not only will you feel at peace, you will know that your practice is benefitting your overall health and longevity.

Learn more about alternative paths to health:

TheVisualMD.com: Dr. Oz and Alternative Practices

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr / jessebezz

Story Rx: Have Novel in case of Car Accident. (Or, How Katsa Saved me from Whiplash)



From Stories are Good Medicine:

The other day, I was in a car accident. Not a super serious one, thank goodness. Was sitting at a red light (a RED LIGHT!) when someone crashed into the driver’s side rear end of the car.

The car was still driveable. I was still driveable. But I was pretty shook up.

Luckily the police were there within seconds (we were in a busy college area of Manhattan) and went about doing their police reporting business.

All sounds pretty mundane so far, right?

Well, there I was waiting in my running car (it was a cold night) for the cops to finish doing their thing, when my back started to hurt. And my neck. And my sides. And I felt myself tensing up, thinking "Oh, no, I’ve hurt something! I could be really hurt!"

I had visions of walking around in one of those big white collars you always see car accident victims wear on TV. I thought about things like disability insurance, and hospitals. My mind started racing. It was not pretty.

So I took out the only weapons I had at the time against the evil forces of anxiety and darkness. My own mind (I did a lot of deep in and out yoga breathing); and more specifically my own imagination. I happened to have Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in the car with me, and I opened it up, and in the strange glow of a Manhattan streetlight, began to read.

I read about the brave, two-color eyed Katsa and her fighting skills, her sheer physical will. I read about her love for the Graceling Prince Po (whose name, in a totally unrelated sidenote, means "bottom" in German. Sorry to say, hard for someone married to a German speaker to get over…), her care for the princess Bitterblue. I read about her fights and her love affair, her sword fighting and her emotional growth. In other words, like any devout reader, I became transformed — transported into a world of fantasy and possibility.

And I started to forget about my own mundane problems. Like why the cops were taking so long. And why that man had hit me in the first place. And how I would match my wardrobe to a ginormous neck collar.

And as my mind relaxed and rejoiced in the novel, my muscles relaxed, and rejoiced in their own luck. I didn’t have whiplash, I didn’t have anything. I was fine. I was whole. And I was reading.

I’m not saying literature is the cure for all physical ills. But, as my work in Narrative Medicine has shown me, it does have an important role in the training of clinicians and also potentially the healing of the sick.

Katsa didn’t save me from evil, but she did, in a very real way, save me from myself. From my own body’s tensions and from being more shook up than I had to be.

So my Rx? Drive carefully, people. Put on your seatbelt. Obey traffic rules. Don’t talk on the phone or text for goodness sake.

And for those moments you need to escape the madness of life’s highway, pull over (safely) and open your favorite fantasy novel.

(Anyone else have stories of novels saving them? 🙂

 

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