Dr. Willie Ong (Internist-Cardiologist)
You’ve heard about the usual tips to prevent heart disease. You know about the bad effects of cigarette smoking, alcohol, fatty foods and stress. You know that you have to control your blood sugar and blood pressure to prevent diabetes and high blood pressure respectively. But what more can you do to protect your heart? Find out the latest buzz words in heart disease.
- Buy household plants – We’ve learned in science class that plants take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Humans, on the other hand, give off carbon dioxide and need lifesaving oxygen. So it’s just common sense that the more plants you have (the more trees you plant) the better it is for our polluted environment. A NASA study shows that household plants can remove toxins in the environment. Try placing a few plants inside your house.
- Get a pet dog – Studies show that dogs offer some benefit to people. Dogs give companionship and love to their owner. However, studies show that cats are not as effective. Dogs can help you become more active and exercise more (by walking the dog). Patients who suffered a heart attack also recovered faster if they have a pet dog.
- Floss and brush your teeth – Recent studies show that gum disease is associated with heart disease and may reduce your lifespan by three years. It is believed that inflammation of the gums is related to inflammation of the heart arteries. In addition, oral infection can also lead to a dangerous infection of the heart valves. Brush your teeth after meals. Use a tongue cleaner. And remember to floss at least once a day.
- Try nasal breathing – For over 2,000 years, Chinese medicine has taught us the benefits of breathing through the nose instead of the mouth. Recently, researchers have discovered the scientific explanation for this technique. It appears that nasal breathing stimulates the production of nitrous oxide, which is a beneficial gas that dilates the blood vessels of the body. Try deep and slow nasal breathing several times in the morning and at night. Also, use your belly or diaphragm to breathe in (expand your waistline as you breath), and not your chest. You can suck in more oxygen this way. Here’s how to do it: Inhale slowly through the nose, hold your breath for a few seconds (to facilitate gas exchange in the lungs), then slowly exhale through the mouth. Do this whenever you are stressed. It’s good for the heart and increases the oxygen in your blood from 96% to 99%.
- Have supportive friends – An unusual study shows that talking to a supportive friend for an hour is as effective as taking a tablet of pain reliever. Good friends can reduce your stress level by up to 90%. There is something heavenly in true and caring friends. Invest your time in building close friendships.
- Laugh 15 minutes a day – Research from the University of California Irvine College of Medicine shows that after watching a funny video, the viewers’ mood improved dramatically. Depression and anger dropped by 98%, fatigue fell by 87%, and tension was reduced by 61%. What happens inside our bodies when we laugh? The level of stress hormones (called cortisol) decreases, and the good hormones (called endorphins) increases. Endorphins are natural substances in the body that make you happy and boost your immune system.
- Be charitable – Doing various kinds of good deeds every week helps you live happier and longer. Charitable people who suffered a heart attack tend to live longer compared to other patients who are not as charitable. Perhaps, this is because charitable people have more social support and people praying for their recovery. Similarly, Prof. Peggy Thoits’ study at the Vanderbilt University shows that people who volunteer and help others have higher levels of happiness, self-esteem and better physical health.
- Be in love –Married people or those with close relationships are generally happier compared to single people living alone. If you don’t have a partner, then having a close friend, a pet or a hobby can be a substitute. Indeed, some experts believe that being in love can prolong one’s life by as much as seven years.
- Have sex (if your doctor allows it) – Studies show that healthy men who have sex three times a week can decrease their risk for a heart attack or stroke. Women who enjoy sex also tend to live longer than those who don’t. Studies also show that increasing your sexual activity from once a month to once a week also increases your general happiness. Sex makes one feel good and happy. It’s also good exercise for the heart. However, if you have a medical condition, get a clearance first from your doctor.
- Eat two bananas a day – Bananas contain potassium, which is an essential mineral needed to regulate water balance, acidity level and blood pressure of the body. A lack of potassium may cause muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat. Take note also that bananas have zero sodium (good for high blood pressure) and zero fat and cholesterol (good for those with high cholesterol). Bananas also have tryptophan, which makes you feel happier. Two bananas a day will give you the equivalent of half a multivitamin.
- Relax and sleep – Take a vacation and travel if you can. Whatever relaxes you is good for your heart. Sleeping and resting is another great way to boost your energies. The best sleep is at night for at least 7-8 hours. Try to be asleep from 11 PM to 3 AM, because this is the time the body heals itself.
- Pray – Studies show that people who have a strong sense of spirituality are 40% happier than those who don’t. People who hope for a brighter future and have a purpose in their lives tend to be happier and more fulfilled.