How to avoid this heart risk for the next month

  • Could a yellow family really teach us a health lesson? D’oh!
  • Discover why fear and worry have to be avoided
  • Why being more Zen will get you through

Watching the Simpsons feels a lot like staring into a mirror a watching my own family from time to time.

Of course there are one or two differences…

The Collins folk aren’t yellow. I don’t work in a Nuclear Plant, and I take my health a tad more seriously than Homer.

For example, I’d never stuff myself with a box of doughnuts. Not when there’s so much chocolate in the world still to be eaten.

But there was a scene in a recent episode I saw that reminded me about a surprising threat to our health that can strike ANYONE.

In fact it’s more than likely it will hit you at some point, especially if you let the upcoming lockdown affect you. So let’s get prepared…

What Bart Simpson can teach us about health

In this episode, a new girl moves into the neighbourhood, and Bart falls head over heels in love. She likes everything he likes, she’s pretty (as pretty as a yellow cartoon can be), and she seems to really like him.

But then, up in his treehouse, she confesses, she’s fallen in love with another, and in a gruesome comedic moment she plunges a hand into Bart’s chest, rips out his heart, announces ‘I guess you won’t be needing this anymore,’ then lobs it against a wall where it slides pitifully into a bin.

Now you know how it feels when Wales lose at rugby. (No comments needed in the emails please!)

Actually, after he’d had his heart ripped out, Bart just looked a little downbeat for a day or two. So I guess it didn’t teach us a lot about health after all.

But this episode reminded me of a real life story that happened a few Christmases ago.

It concerned a grandmother who was denied contact with her grandchildren. She was so heartbroken she took to her bed over the Christmas period.

On New Year’s Day she passed away.

There was no medical reason for this woman’s death. The hospital’s comment was: ‘It was what she wanted’.

The same could be said about legendary New Yorker editor William Maxwell.

When his wife died he said to a colleague: ‘I’ve decided there’s not much reason to stick around, now that Emmy’s gone.’

He passed away a week later.

But can you REALLY die from a broken heart? Surely it’s just a figure of speech.

Well, apparently not.

The stress hormones that can ‘stun’ your heart

A while ago, a research team from Johns Hopkins University discovered that when you suffer emotional trauma, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flood your bloodstream.

Your heart rate quickens, your blood pressure rises and your muscles tense.

These stress hormones can actually become toxic to your heart, effectively ‘stunning’ it, causing chest pains, breathlessness and heart failure.

There have been previous studies of cardiovascular deaths across the world, in which major traumas cause an increase in heart attacks – for example, in the wake of major earthquakes in California, Japan, Armenia and Greece.

Other triggers can include being the victim of a serious crime, losing your home, having to face a large audience or suffering a serious job crisis.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, of the British Heart Foundation, said:

‘The researchers have shed some new light… on a condition that is known to particularly affect older women – the sudden onset of what appears to be a classic heart attack following severe emotional stress.’

Of course, I don’t want to worry you. Most people recover from the kinds of heart attack you get from stress because it’s a temporary spasm, not a long-term defect.

And I guess we can rule out earthquakes around here.

But as this problem is as serious as it can get if it does strike, I’ve got some ways you can guard against it…

Try these over the next few weeks and make sure that you don’t let worry and fear affect you.

Try this Zen relaxation technique

The best way to guard against the effects of stress hormones is to take an hour out of your day to relax – every single day of the rest of your life!

By this I don’t mean watching the telly or doing the gardening. I mean serious relaxation using some tried and tested yoga relaxation and Zen meditation techniques.

They’re quite simple to follow.

  • Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure it’s in a pleasant room with no distractions. Sit cross-legged with your back straight and imagine a calm scene in your head – waves rolling onto a beach or a breeze rippling through a cornfield.
  • Begin to take deep breaths. Each time you exhale, feel your body relax further and further. Do this at least ten times.
  • Clench the muscles in your feet for 5 seconds, then consciously relax them. Do this with your calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest… all the way up to your facial muscles. This works because by tensing your muscles you can relax them more effectively. This is called ‘progressive muscular relaxation’. Do this slowly over 10 minutes.
  • Now combine the two. Focus on steady, deep breathing – but also relax each part of your body in your mind, from your feet to your face. You don’t need to clench the muscles first this time, but count your breaths. Do this for 20 minutes.

Don’t be tempted to lie down – you may fall asleep, which is not the point of the exercise.

And don’t worry about nasty thoughts intruding. This will happen at first. Let them come and go naturally and don’t dwell on them.

What you will do with this exercise is train your mind and body to manage the symptoms of emotional trauma, reducing the stress hormone levels in your heart. Soon you will find yourself slipping into relaxation mode whenever you wish.

Be aware that these techniques will take practice, so give them time to work. But I swear by them.

And I swear by this next commandment as well…

Don’t forget, treating yourself to the occasional ‘bad’ thing you like is all part of keeping yourself happy, which as we’ve seen can have a huge affect on how long you live.

So here’s to the Good Life!