Fitness is an obsession with people in America. We run, bike, and do a host of activities. All with the idea of getting into shape. We want our muscle to be in shape, and even our hearts. Yet being in shape doesn’t fit into just one package. We can be in shape on more than one level. One of the things I’d like to suggest is that you don’t forget to exercise your heart’s other dimensions.
You know what I’m talking about! We all know the importance of physical exercise for the heart, but the type of exercise that I’m talking about moves past the physical. It takes us on a deeper journey of the heart.
Besides flexing our physical heart muscle, it’s also important to exercise the other aspects of our heart. We need to expand the emotional, psychological, mental, and even spiritual aspects of our heart health. Know what I mean?
How are you doing in these areas? Are you paying attention to the other needs of your heart? As a cardiologist, I often see this aspect of heart health overlooked.
Just last month a man in his early 40’s came to me after a recent heart attack. His cholesterol wasn’t that high. He didn’t smoke. The only risk factors that he possessed were a mild family history of heart disease and some anxiety. Yet, he still had developed serious blocked heart arteries. As I spoke to him it became clear that he suffered with significant grief. His mother who he was very close to has passed away and he was having a hard time dealing with his loss.
When I began talking to him about this aspect of his health- the emotional or spiritual influences in his life, I could see his eyes cloud over. Although he acted like he was listening, he was really checking out. He had a hard time acknowledging that emotional issues could be playing a role in his heart illness. It’s a common issue with many people. They have difficulty acknowledging that what happens to them emotionally is playing a part in their physical condition.
The medical evidence tells us otherwise. Hundreds of medical studies show time and again that feelings and emotions play a critical role in illness. Our hearts are particularly prone to being injured from runaway emotions. Fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, and many others- can create real heart disease.
But most patients aren’t interested in working on this aspect of their heart health.
People are willing to exercise their bodies, but they rarely willing to exercise their other heart muscles. How about you? Do you fall into this camp. Does the idea of getting emotional, attending a workshop, or becoming “touchy, feely” make you run?
I’ve got some suggestions for exercising the other parts of your heart and improving your total heart health- if you’re willing to take the plunge.
1. Check in with Your Heart.
Our hearts have a knowledge that defies logical explanation. Have you ever had a gut feeling about something. It wasn’t a logical thought or idea, but just a feeling that something wasn’t right about a person or a situation? And that illogical feeling turned out to be correct? Such experiences aren’t pure chance. At a deep level our heart knows. It knows what we need to be healthy. So make the time to start checking in with your heart. Get quiet. Spend some time in meditation or reflection.
2. Be Willing to have an Open Mind and Heart to New Ideas
Most people are close minded. They get set in one way of thinking and are unwilling to see other views. They do this will their heart as well. They develop a certain way of responding to a situation and don’t ever change. As a way of exercising your heart, why not consider having an open mind for a change. Try this exercise. Sit down with the newspaper and read something that would normally have you thinking in one direction and choose to think about it differently.
For example, say you like sports and you dislike a certain team. Read one of the stories about that team and completely reverse your thoughts about them- just as an exercise. Make a conscious effort to think completely different. See how that feels. Now do this with something related to your heart. Say there’s a person who really annoys you at work. The next time he/she does something that bugs you just say to yourself, “Why are they doing that?” “What experience from their past makes them respond in that way?” Rather than judging them you’re trying to understand them. Notice what that does to your experience of them.
3. Read Something that Really Moves Your Heart
Our hearts can get rusty. Just like machinery that doesn’t get used regularly, they can get stuck. Make the effort to read something inspirational- something that really touches your heart. It could be a whole book, or just a short blurb of something. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series is a good place to get something inspirational. But take the time to read something that really stretches your heart. Do this at least once per week. We need to have our hearts touched. We need to feel sad, happy, content, and even angry. Having something move our heart keeps us from shutting down. It helps us to avoid complacency and disconnection.
4. Connect with Someone Everyday- Really Connect
Make a heartfelt connection with someone everyday. By this I mean talk to someone and make sure the conversation moves past the superficial. Find out about their kids, their health, their fears, pains…you get the idea. When we connect hearts by becoming intimate it can be healing. Dean Ornish, M.D., in his book, Love and Survival, relates many research studies that show over and over that connecting with people can improve our health. Connection can be the spice of life that moves us out of our limited existence and into an experience of the infinite.
5. Go Within
Meditate, pray, chant, pose, breath- use any method that will take you from the outside to your deep inside. One of the things I teach in my workshops is what I call the mystical life. A mystic is someone who closes off the outside and moves inward. This skill is vital for defusing stress and becoming well. If you don’t have a regular method for going within, take the time to find a method that resonates with you. Many scientific studies have shown that techniques for relaxation can alter illness.
People who make the time to touch into their own hearts on a regular basis are healthier and happier. It doesn’t matter what you do- just that you do it. Even journaling can be useful. I’ve previously written about the one line journaling. Its great for people who are busy. But if you do it regularly it will help you learn to stop the outside world.
I hope you’ve found this posting useful. I’ll stop writing now. But I’d love to hear your comments on exercising the heart.