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Emotional Well Being

Emotional Health and Heart Health Linked

The happier and less stressed you are the more likely you are to avoid heart disease.

It's all about a good physical, emotional and intellectual balance.

Medically it can be ailing, treated, mended, even replaced. Romantically it is associated with love, tenderness, emotion and passion and is reputedly capable of being touched, warmed, broken and mended.

The best way to love your heart and the heart of those you love is to look after it. The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) is among a number of health-promoting bodies now recognizing the link between emotional health and heart health.

"Our aim is to help people move towards a state of optimal health now defined as a balance of physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual health," says Dr Vincent Maher, IHF's medical director.

"The impact of psychological factors on cardiovascular disease has been demonstrated by the fact that people who feel loved, have friendship, companionship, are more likely to choose practices that enhance health. Resources such as close personal relationships that diminish negative emotions, enhance health in part through their positive impact on immune regulation. The presence of social support and social networks may be as important as eliminating physical risk factors [such as smoking, inactivity, poor nutrition], in improving health and preventing premature deaths," he says.

People who do not feel loved are three times more likely to die from heart attack and other diseases. Those who do not have a warm integrated community of contacts are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory or gastrointestinal disease.

A recent article in the Globe and Mail supports these conclusions. "Stay connected. It’s good for you" says much the same.

As we age, differing life expectancies result in the loss of the spouse, the single most important social support we have. That’s why a retirement home, where you are in a setting that focuses on social interaction and stimulation, rather than living alone, can help establish new friendships and social networks. Living in a congregate setting may still not counter the feeling of loneliness, but it is more likely to result in meaningful new social contact.

Other key variables - acute stress, hostility, depression and poor socio-economic status - have been identified as possible psycho social risk factors.

Negative emotions can intensify a variety of health threats including cardiovascular disease," says Maher.

A growing body of research shows that among heart disease patients, mental stress is as dangerous to the heart as physical stress.

"We identify stress as a mismatch between a situation in which someone is placed, and their ability to cope with it," says Maureen Mulvihill, Irish Heart Foundation's health promotion manager.

Stress releases cholesterol into the blood stream and raises blood pressure causing the heart to work harder.

Also high levels of stress increase secretion of noradrenalin, the "aggression hormone" whose most potent action is constriction of blood vessels which can deprive the heart of oxygen.

Ongoing stress also increases the chance of other risk factors for heart disease such as smoking and lack of exercise.

Governments need to recognize these realities, if they hope to deal with the growth of our senior population and the impact on health spending.

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