The heart. It is a powerful organ but it’s also our emotional centre. In pregnancy, our heart changes physically to accommodate the new life we’re creating. When we become moms, our emotional heart expands in ways we could never have imagined.
Since our heart is at the core of our physical and mental wellbeing, it is important for us to keep it running smoothly. While we all know that cardiovascular activity and a balanced diet are important factors in maintaining a strong heart, there are some other behaviours that – although we may not realize it – contribute to a happy and healthy heart.
Here are just a few:
When we’re teaching our kids to be polite, thankful and caring, we’re also giving them tools to keep their heart healthy! It has been said that when we express gratitude, kindness or nurture positive thoughts our bodies release oxytocin. Oxytocin relaxes the nervous system, reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure, all key factors that play into a well-functioning heart.
We all have a playlist for those times that we need a little pick-me-up, the kind of music that put a skip back into your step. As it turns out, listening to the tunes that make you happy might not be simply good for your soul. According to a study done at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, it’s good for the heart too. The positive feelings have “a healthy effect on blood vessel function” which, in turn, promotes vascular health.
When our kids are freaking out, throwing a tantrum, or angry at a sibling for stealing their toy, by telling them to take a few deep breaths we not only ease the drama, we’re also helping their hearts. Deep, conscious breathing has been proven to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety in the body, reduce blood pressure and lower the heart rate, all of which contribute to the wellbeing of the heart.
Get into the Garden
While it’s been cited as a meditative practice and a hobby that truly gives back, most of us don’t associate a pair of gardening gloves and a trowel with the heart health. But as Canada’s gardening expert Mark Cullen says, “Gardening is an excellent way to get some physical activity, relieve stress, lower blood pressure and provide us with bountiful vegetables, which are all good for the heart.”
Whether it’s family or friends, choosing whom we spend our time with can affect our heart health. A study conducted by Nicholas A. Christakis (a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School in Boston) and James Fowler (a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego) concluded that, “people’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected.” In other words, happiness seems to be contagious. And when we are happy and content, we are likely to make healthier choices, we have more energy, and we are able to deal with stress much more effectively. When combined, these benefits of happiness are fabulous tools for helping the heart stay strong.
So, the next time you’re saying grace at the dinner table, listening to your favourite tunes, taking a few deep breaths, planting your tomatoes or spending quality time with your close girlfriends, know that you, your family and your friends are contributing to the health and happiness of each other’s heart.