The winter can be a beautiful season, but when temperatures drop is when our health needs the greatest care. We all know about cold and flu season or the winter blues, for example. But one area that many of us forget to consider during this time of year is heart health. In fact, the risk of heart attack is greater during the cold winter season for a number of reasons that scientists are still unraveling.
Winter Heart Health Risks
Aside from less exercise, holiday indulgences and lack of vitamin D from the sun (an essential heart-healthy nutrient), other factors may be closely involved in winter’s increased heart risks. For example, dehydration — very common in cold climates — is known to negatively affect heart health, particularly the electrical conductivity of the heart. Also, researchers are learning more about how the immune system and the cardiovascular system are related; both have to work harder during the colder months. Furthermore, stress and anxiety around the holidays are common and can turn a risky situation into a deadly one.
There are a number of important ways to protect cardiovascular health during the winter and beyond. Diet, exercise and lifestyle are the most important. Above and beyond anything else, however, is the healthy management of stress in protecting the heart and cardiovascular system. It is estimated that up to one of every three people who suffer heart attacks has normal cholesterol levels. There’s another, even more dangerous risk factor at play here: chronic inflammation. Stress and inflammation go hand in hand and each aggravates the other, causing a vicious cycle of biochemical responses that wreak havoc throughout the body — especially the heart.
New Breakthrough Research
That’s why a new study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes caught my attention. This is the strongest research yet to demonstrate the remarkable power of simple, mindful meditation to alleviate stress and reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and even early death from heart disease. The researchers observed a group of 201 African-American men and women who were diagnosed with coronary artery disease, for about five years. Results showed that the group that practiced regular meditation had reduced their risk of heart attack, stroke and premature death by a remarkable 48 percent. They also showed a reduction in blood pressure, stress and anger.
Meditation has been shown in other studies to dramatically reduce stress, improve emotional balance, increase quality of life, reduce cortisol levels and boost immunity. It is also known to offer benefits such like greater cognitive ability and increased healing capacity. This latest, long-term study provides further substantiation and insight into these powerful effects. In fact, scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of meditation’s healing potential. As studies continue, we can expect to see this ancient practice becoming a standard in treatment and prevention programs for numerous chronic illnesses.
Tips For Effective Mind-Body Meditation Practice
While there are countless styles of meditation practice, one of the simplest and most effective is the ancient Eastern practice of Shamatha meditation. Shamatha means “calm abiding” in Sanskrit. This form of meditation is intended to help people access their mind’s natural state of tranquility and clarity. The technique involves focusing the breath and the mind’s attention on a specific object and letting go of all other thoughts as attention is consistently trained on the process of breathing.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, and pick a small object such as a stone to place on the ground in front of you. Focus your eyes and your breathing on the rock. As thoughts inevitably arise, simply acknowledge and then release them, letting them slip away with each exhalation. When your mind wanders off, gently bring your attention back to your breathing and the stone, visualizing each inhalation and exhalation going to and from the stone.
Meditation And Healing Retreat
For more in-depth meditation practice and experience, I invite you to join me for a two-day meditation and healing retreat Feb. 2-3 at my healing center in Santa Rosa, Calif. This weekend workshop is designed for patients, health practitioners and the general community to learn practical meditation and mind-body tools that enhance healing capacity and promote optimal wellness and vitality.