“With a healthy heart, the beat goes on.”
Central to human life is a healthy heart and sadly heart disease currently ranks as the most common cause of death in both men and women. This scary and preventable fact has sent cardiologists around the world on the hunt for the best ways to promote and maintain heart health.
The medical world has discovered a wide variety of factors that contribute to heart health, ranging from biological factors, such as family history of heart disease, to personal factors, such as amount of physical activity one performs.
Recently, however, a new field termed “Positive Cardiovascular Health” has emerged as a combination of the traditional study of cardiovascular health and a relatively new field of Positive Psychology.
Two Valves Make a Whole
Positive Cardiovascular Health has resulted from efforts of combining proponents of Cardiovascular health to incorporate aspects of Positive health, such as optimism and purpose in life, into the prevention of heart disease. The convergence of two fields of health research and intervention provide a new stepping stone in creating healthy hearts around the world. Let’s look at the different components:
Cardiovascular Health (CVH) is a movement within Preventative Cardiology that is dedicated to improving cardiovascular wellness and reducing the occurrence of death due to heart disease. The CVH movement is unique to the field of Cardiology because it focuses on preventative measures rather than cardiovascular diagnoses, diseases and treatment.
Similar to the CVH movement, Positive Psychology arose from the desire to focus less on psychological disorder, and more on the positive aspects of human flourishing, as well as what humans can do to prevent the onset of psychological illness. Concepts such as optimism, positive emotions and purpose in life are central to the field of positive psychology as well as essential components to positive health.
The Goals of Positive Cardiovascular Health
Positive Cardiovascular Health provides an ideal intersection between these two fields by combining the preventative heart disease efforts of Cardiovascular Health with the positive-mindset development efforts of Positive Psychology.
Anticipated outcomes of the new field of Positive Cardiovascular Health include:
- Promotion of health across the lifespan, from gestation onward, by remaining conscious of the effect of aging and development on the heart.
- Development of favorable change in cardiovascular health through efforts to reduce its rapid decline.
- Improving outcomes for individuals who already experience a cardiovascular disorder, such as heart attack or stroke, by developing more effective rehabilitation strategies.
- Creating more effective end-of-life care, which will likely reduce the incidence of terminal illness in geriatric populations.
Optimism: Central to Mental and Physical Health
The concept of optimism is central to the promotion of Positive Cardiovascular Health. Optimism has been shown to be negatively correlate with the symptoms of depression, including difficulties with sleep, loss of energy, and a blunted and apathetic approach towards life. This correlation indicates that those who learn to embrace an optimistic mindset are less prone to depression, and are also likely to have a psychological buffer helpful in maintaining their physical health.
Research in the field of Positive Cardiovascular Health demonstrates that optimism can promote healthy behaviors, the positive influence of which includes:
- Maintaining a balanced diet
- Engaging in regular exercise
- Enhancing one’s desire to seek out social support
- Directly affecting the function of biological processes, such as immune system performance, gene expression, and heart rate.
Clearly, cardiovascular health can be greatly impacted by one’s level of optimism and the degree of positive emotions experienced in general. But how can you incorporate what Positive Cardiovascular Health teaches us into your daily routine?
5 Things You Can Do to Promote Optimism and Prevent Heart Disease
Try out Meditation or Yoga
There’s a reason why experts in the field of yoga and meditation typically exhibit lower heart rates than the general population. The key to their slowed heart rate comes from focusing on training the mind to be more in tune with the breath, granting individuals the ability to consciously monitor their heart rate by becoming mindful of their breath. Breathing exercises also serve to calm the mind, which makes optimistic thought easier to achieve.
Surround Yourself with Optimists
The old phrase “you are the combination of the five people closest to you” rings true time and time again. Developing an optimistic mindset is near impossible if you are constantly interacting with individuals who are committed to residing on the cynical side of life, negativity and positivity are contagious so be wary. Try to promote conversation that focuses on the good rather than dwelling on the negative and find people or stories that can inspire you to get hopeful and excited about life.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude works to promote feelings of happiness and well-being, which encourage individuals to become more hopeful about future outcomes. Spending a few minutes a day with your gratitude journal focused on what makes you feel blessed, will bring the positive aspects of your life to the forefront of your mind, which helps to facilitate positive thoughts.
Escape the Negativity Bias
Just as it is near impossible to develop optimism when surrounded by pessimistic thinkers, an optimistic mindset is unlikely to flourish within your mind if you are prone to focusing on the negative aspects of a situation, stuck with your negativity bias.
Next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, pause for a moment to consider what good came from it. Consciously reframing your thinking creates a new way of responding to situations and, soon enough, your mind will automatically and habitually jump to the bright side of any negative event.
Avoid Excessive Worrying
Worry, stress and and anxiety are some of today’s most unhealthy heart contributors, and while they encourage individuals to envision every possible worst case scenario, they no nothing to engender a positive or optimistic mindset. And while defensive pessimism can have some benefits it is likely to be a large contributor to physiological stress and cardiovascular disease.
The next time you find yourself worrying aimlessly about the worst possible outcomes of a situation, take a walk outside, call a friend, breath deeply and mindfully, slow down and note your heart rate. Get yourself away from the issue for a little while so that when you are ready to come back to it, you can view it from a different and more hopeful and less stressful standpoint.
A Take Home Message
Positive Cardiovascular Health, while new to the world of Cardiology and Positive Psychology has many implications for the health of people of all ages. With the promotion of healthy habits, the prevention of excessive symptoms of mental illness and the development of optimism, the reduction of heart disease incidence seems inevitable.
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