How to Maintain a Healthy Heart
by Maureen Cromey
An Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Expert
Our heart is our most important organ. When we think about the heart we don’t immediately think of it as a big muscular pump pushing blood around our body. The Heart seems to house feelings and love and can be easily broken by betrayal, disappointment or bereavement. It is an iconic symbol for love.
‘How to maintain a healthy heart’ can be Googled and followed in easy steps. Drink less alcohol, maintain a low body weight, exercise regularly, reduce stress levels, eat a good diet high in unsaturated fats and low in salt and quit smoking. None of this is new to any of us and it all follows the basic rules for good health and longevity. Statistics for deaths due to cardiovascular disease including strokes are shocking. Over one third of all deaths in the UK are caused by heart disease which also costs the NHS over £9 billion each year. What a terrible waste; this is one disease that is almost totally avoidable given the right lifestyle choices. A study in America in 2010 found that by adopting five lifestyle factors before reaching middle age reduced the risk of developing heart disease dramatically, even in people with a family history of heart problems. The five healthy lifestyle factors are;
- not smoking
- low or no alcohol intake
- weight control
- physical activity
- a healthy diet
Within Traditional Chinese Medicine, the theory of understanding organs is different to the anatomical and physiological picture of conventional medicine. Each organ is seen as a system with a wide range of influence. There are some overlaps with scientific understanding but the paradigm is quite different.
The heart in Chinese Medicine theory is an important organ. It is associated with the circulation of blood throughout the body which warms and nourishes and creates a healthy pulse. Ancient texts also state that the heart houses the Shen. Shen is known as the psyche, mind or spirit and so the heart is the ‘residence of the mind’. A balanced Shen can be seen in bright shining eyes, good spirits and experiencing joy. When the Shen is out of balance, mental activity, memory and sleep are affected. We can feel anxious, jumpy and joyless. It often manifests as feeling 'tired and wired’, dull eyed and prone to worrying.
To truly maintain a healthy heart we need to tend to both our physical and emotional well-being:
- exercise daily, incorporate fast walking into your day
- eat a healthy diet and maintain a good body weight
- cut out alcohol or save it for special occasions
- quit smoking
- try to manage stress and resolve conflict as quickly as possible
- have fun, relax regularly and enjoy what you have in life
Sometimes it is not possible to achieve all of this, or you may already have some symptoms that place you in a higher risk category for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, stressful life changes or being overweight. Acupuncture has been shown to successfully reduce stress hormones in the body, it moderates sympathetic nerve activity which reduces stress on the heart muscle and balances hypertension. Energetic acupuncture treatment to the heart channel soothes the Shen and strengthens blood. The effect is feeling calmer and more focused, sleeping deeply and experiencing joy and laughter.
Maintaining a healthy heart is a life’s work, but without that work it is hard to enjoy a good life. Look after yourself, understand and listen to your body and your emotions, respect your constitution and to try experience joy and contentment whenever you can with what you have right now.