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5 Ways to Love Your Heart (& Other People Too)

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~ Nelson Mandela 

Happy Valentines Day! This special holiday evokes thoughts and feelings of love, admiration, passion, kindness, and generosity. All loving relationships deserve acknowledgement and celebration! This day is never limited to a romantic partnership.Valentines Day or Love Day as I like to call it, is also a reminder of the infinite possibility of the human heart. 

This essential organ is vital for our precious lives, as we know. We must not only take care of it in the physical sense, we must pay special attention to how our emotions, thoughts, actions and words affect our own heart as well as the hearts of others. Read below for ways to give your heart the love it needs and desires. 

  1. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly PLANTS.” ~ Michael Pollan. Yes! For a healthier functioning heart, your diet should include a lot of plants. Not house plants. But a plant based focused diet filled with a plethora of vegetables, fruits, herbs, oils, nuts, seeds, plant based fats like avocados and healthy lean animal protein or plant based protein like legumes and beans if you are vegetarian. Less processed food, less sugar, less deep fried, less dining out at restaurants (except for Valentines Day of course), less alcohol, less dairy, less gluten. Moderation is always important. If in doubt, less is usually better. A plant based focused diet is healthier due to the nutrient richness contained within those foods. The fresher from Earth, the better. A plant based focused diet also allows your beating heart to do its job more efficiently which is to provide blood supply to the entire body, every organ, every cell. Excess calories, a pattern of unhealthy food choices, excess weight not only increases risk for chronic illnesses, it can also lead to stress on the cardiovascular system – elevated high blood pressure and lipids, stroke and heart attack. Positively change your diet and you’ll give your heart a greater chance to optimize its performance and save your life. 

  2. “EXERCISE should be regarded as a tribute to the heart.” ~ Gene Tunney. Most of us know that exercise is important for weight loss, weight management and for good health in general, right? Did you also know that the heart itself that works tirelessly (never stopping!) to provide your entire body with blood, oxygen and essential nutrients needs to have strong, healthy muscles too? The heart is composed of cardiac muscle that is different than the muscles throughout our body. Cardiac muscles along with blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (i.e. coronary artery) need to be supported so that they can carry the load for the body and keep you alive. How? Consistent exercise several days per week, week after week, year after year. Exercise increase blood circulation, oxygen, hormones, neurotransmitters and nutrients right back to the heart which needs it just as importantly. Don’t have 60 minutes? No problem – do 20 minutes. When the heart is empowered, you are empowered. 

  3. “STRESS shortens your lifespan. Even a broken heart can kill you.” ~ Bryant McGill. Stress is inevitable. It comes with being a human. Work stress, family stress, financial stress, loss of a loved one stress, toxic relationship stress, poor diet/lifestyle stress, the list goes on. Chronic stress that is relentless will not only weaken your entire body, mind and spirit, it will cause your heart to behave in a distressed manner. Excess cortisol and adrenaline over time will cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), meaning it beats too fast, too slow, too early or any adverse change from your normal rhythm. The electrical signals to the heart have malfunctioned and the most common cause is stress. Furthermore, chronic stress leads to high blood pressure – inflamed, constricted blood vessels that make the heart work harder causing further heart distress. If left unresolved, chronic stress can cause more severe consequences like a heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, every 40 seconds an American has a heart attack. Manage the stress through your favorite de-stressing activities: exercise, yoga, walking in nature, meditation, prayer, journaling, talk to a therapist, massage, whatever brings you enjoyment and solace will calm that tenacious, life giving heart. 

  4. “VOLUNTEERS do not necessarily have the time. They have the heart.” ~ Elizabeth Andrew. When you give your time, energy, thoughtfulness and attention to another person(s) in need, you are positively changing their lives forever. It might seem like a day or short period of time to you. To them, they may cherish your generosity forever. You bring a smile to their face, make their world a bit happier and peaceful and they will likely never forget you. Benefits of volunteering for you? A happier mood, a feeling of connection, community and a sense of purpose. Volunteering has been shown to decrease blood pressure (rather opens up your blood vessels) throughout the body so that the heart’s workload is much easier. Volunteering takes the focus off of your own stress and worries and can alleviates your anxiety and depression. Helping someone else who is less fortunate or enduring circumstances that are far worse than your own can not only shows that you care, but it also enhances your own sense of fulfillment in knowing that you are helping another human being along this journey of life. And that genuine human contribution and connection has the profound ability to support and heal the heart for many years.

  5. If our hearts are filled with unconditional love and true FORGIVENESS, we are sure to experience miracles in our lives.” ~ Michael Mirdad. We’ve all been hurt. And all of us have hurt others too. Some things are more easily released. Other experiences are held onto for a lifetime. Unresolved conflict, resentment, anger, bitterness, betrayal and despair that lingers within the brain will adversely spread to the rest of the body, including the heart, and will continue its catastrophic effects. Many studies have shown that regularly practicing forgiveness decreases stress hormones which dissolve anxiety, depression, stress, and chronic pain. Forgiveness also improves sleep, digestion, mood, relationships with others, relationship with yourself. And therefore, forgiveness has profound effects on your cardiovascular system by lowering risk for cardiovascular disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack and stroke. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s not excusing terrible behavior from the past. It’s liberating you from the chains of chronic hurt, pain and victimhood and allows your brain, body and your heart another chance to live a life of happiness, peace and vitality that you deserve. Love yourself enough to forgive others and yourself as well and your heart will back you up with every heart beat. 

Wishing each and every one of you a Happy Valentines Day and a lifetime of Love! 

With Gratitude,  Dr. Kristi