Adding joy to your life can boost your heart health almost as much as eating a healthy, balanced diet and being active.
A happy heart is a healthier heart agrees Dr Sarah Brewer, Medical Director of wellbeing brand Healthspan. Researchers from Columbia Medical Centre University who followed almost 1800 adults for ten years found that the happiest people had a lower risk of coronary heart disease, while another study found a possible link between happiness and lower blood pressure and a slower heart rate.
“If you’re feeling stressed of anxious, ‘havening’, which is a psychosensory technique, can help relax the body and calm the brain,” says Professor Margareta James, Founding Director of Harley Street Wellbeing Clinic.
Havening involves repeatedly stroking your arms or face or rubbing your hands, which triggers the subconscious release of ‘It’ll be okay’ messages to your brain. Havening for seven minutes should leave you feeling calm, safe and peaceful, explains Professor James.
There’s nothing like watching a funny film or giggling with a friend to restore emotional balance and a sense of perspective, explains Alison Cullen, Nutritional Practitioner at A. Vogel. In addition, a sense of humour has been found to be positively associated with survival from CVD-related mortality so having a good laugh officially protects your health.
To almost instantly feel better, straighten up, smile – even if you have to force it – and breathe, advises Dr James. In addition, activities such as yoga and Pilates can help you connect with your body whilst also enhancing your mood, promoting relaxation and relieving tension.
Herbal remedies such as A. Vogel’s new Passiflora range can play a role in supporting the nervous system, says Alison Cullen, who describes A. Vogel’s New Passiflora Complex Spray with fresh lemon balm, natural vanilla and star anise 20ml £10.99 as ‘A hug in a bottle’.
To further lower anxiety, it’s also vital to take care of sleep. Resolving sleep issues benefits a huge range of health systems, continues Alison, as the brain gets a chance to undertake night time restorative and organisational work.
Getting into the habit of feeling good about yourself only comes with practice, explains Dr Meg Arroll, Chartered Physiotherapist working with Healthspan. Every day, whether you’ve done a good deed for someone, are looking really well or have successfully tackled a chore you hate, praise yourself.
According to research, eating more fruit and veg makes you happier. But remember to chew, stresses Nutritional Practitioner Alison Cullen. Chewing switches on the digestive process – and, as well as helping to relieve stress, effective digestion also makes you feel better.
If concerns about your health are taking the shine off your happiness, take positive action by talking to your GP or pharmacist. You might also consider taking a dietary supplement to compensate for any potential nutritional gaps in your daily diet.
In some cases, supplements can also relieve side-effects of certain prescribed medications. For example, says Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Ubiquinol Max* 60 capsules £35.95 contains vitamin B1 to support heart health and may also help reduce some of the unwanted side effects of statins, such as fatigue and aching muscles.
Trying to second-guess what other people are thinking can kill happiness, stresses Dr Meg Arroll. We tend to assume the worst and believe that our partners/family/friends are having negative thoughts about us when they may just be wondering what to have for dinner.
To increase your resilience and reduce stress, focus on what you can improve, advises Professor Margareta James. If you’re feeling tired, have a nap instead of that next cup of coffee. Whenever you can, give yourself permission to have a break – have a relaxing bath, go for a walk and be kind to yourself.
If you’re struggling with a worry, talk about it. Simply talking about feelings reduces their intensity – and if you’re still finding it difficult to cope, have a chat with your GP, who might refer you for guided therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Also, there are charities such as Mind which have a number of resources and online tools to help.
Being surrounded by nature’s palette of greens, whether you’re relaxing in your garden, walking in a local park or forest-bathing in a wood improves every aspect of how the body functions. “Exposure to green space is important to our health,” says Alison Cullen. “Greenery activates a primitive part of the brain that responds to stress.”
And, as taking regular exercise helps boost feelings of wellbeing, now lockdown’s easing, why not take your daily physical activity outside? The combination of exercise and contact with nature is a powerful tool, adds Alison.