Imagine a prescription that reads: a 1-inch square of dark chocolate (morning), one comedy film (twice a week), sex (at least three times a week), a gossip session with friends (thrice a week, evening), dancing (for 1 hour, twice a week), midday nap (30 minutes, every day) and two-three cups of black tea or coffee (every day, optional).
It’s a fact universally acknowledged that following the doctor’s orders is hardly ever fun. But if the orders include the above directives, there may not be too many complaints.
Hearty bite: Opt for dark chocolate
A study published in the European Heart Journal on 4 July establishes a strong correlation between coronary heart disease and satisfaction levels in four life domains—job, family, sex life and self. And that stress and depression increase the risk of heart disease.
“When we’re under stress, our body releases ‘fight or flight’ hormones called catecholamine which increase heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and all these increase the risk of heart diseases,” says S.K. Gupta, senior consultant, cardiology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
But keeping stress levels under control and our heart healthy need not always be a chore. A balanced diet and regular exercise are indisputably the best ways to a healthy heart, but as Deepak Jumani, a sexologist certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counsellors and Therapists, says: “Love a little”.
“There is a factor of gratification which is important in everyone’s life. This releases some endorphins which are cardio-protective,” says Mumbai-based Dr Jumani, who is also a visiting physician at the Mayo Clinic, US.
This gratification comes from various activities. For instance, gossiping with friends every once in a while, watching a movie or play that makes you laugh, or even joining a laughter club. “These activities release ‘feel good’ hormones in our body, called endorphins, and these help quieten the apprehension surge in the body. This results in a surge in heart rate and a lowering of blood pressure,” says Rajneesh Kapoor, director, department of interventional cardiology, Medanta—The Medicity, Gurgaon.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to include the occasional bite of dark chocolate, black tea or coffee, and even some wine, in your diet. “All these have antioxidants and flavonoids which...decrease the progression of atherosclerosis which leads to inhibition of coronary heart blockages,” says Dr Kapoor. But they do come with some riders. “Chocolate also has a lot of calories and sugar which, when taken in excess, are bad for health. So moderation must be exercised—go for dark chocolate, which has higher cocoa content. (With tea and coffee) the addition of milk nullifies their positive effects. So black tea and coffee...two-three cups a day,” says Dr Kapoor.
There is empirical evidence that the presence of antioxidants in wine, particularly red wine, which has resveratrol from grape skin, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. But Dr Kapoor warns against drinking wine just because it has some positive effects on the heart—a view corroborated by a study, Taking Up Regular Drinking in Middle Age: Effect on Major Coronary Heart Disease Events and Mortality, published in the BMJ Publishing Group’s Heart journal in 2002. The study says that middle-aged people who are already regular drinkers experience a lower risk of major coronary heart disease, but in the case of non-drinkers who take up drinking, there is little difference—instead, there is an increased risk of non-cardiovascular mortality and total mortality. So, even though drinking may have some positive effects, it does not mean that non-drinkers should take up drinking. Rather, regular drinkers should moderate their consumption of alcohol. Dr Gupta says drinking should be limited to 60ml of wine at a time, not more than three-four times a week.
For those who don’t care for a regular gym session or can’t get up for an early morning walk, Dr Gupta suggests joining a dance class after work or during weekends. “Dance is a wonderful exercise, like aerobics. It makes your heart beat faster, improves blood circulation, releases endorphins. It also makes your legs and limbs strong, all of which are important for a healthy and long life,” he says.
Dr Jumani also prescribes a healthy and regular sex life. “Sex is anti-ageing. Making love is a way for couples to come together and connect. It’s a stress buster. In fact, touching each other and indulging in foreplay releases the same cardio-protective hormones, and couples who are intimate well into their 60s and 70s live longer and are more healthy,” he says, adding that even “for post-menopausal women, sex has an oestrogenic effect (the oestrogen hormone is released in the body), which makes them less prone to cardiovascular diseases.”
Now that you know healthy living needn’t be a drag, have some fun—after all, it’s all for your heart.