This article by Oris Martin, Fitness Director at Edgewater at Boca Pointe, appeared in the February edition of Boca ViewPointe Newspaper)

For generations the heart has been the symbol of love, care and compassion. This view has been dismissed by psychologists and scientists who viewed the heart as just another organ, and maintained that emotions were merely mental expressions generated by another organ - the brain.

However, recent studies have shown a clear link between your emotions and your heart. In fact, the health of your heart is closely linked to your emotional health and well-being.

Studies show the risk of developing heart disease is significantly higher for those who frequently experience irritation, anger, hostility, frustration, anxiety and insecurity. These negative emotions cause the heart rhythm to become erratic, and thus create stress throughout the body, draining energy and blocking the ability to think clearly.

Stress also causes the body to experience other draining physiological responses: stress hormone levels increase, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure increases, and the immune system weakens. If you continue to experience these emotions, it can lead to a strain on the heart and other organs, and eventually a host of serious health problems. On the other hand, when we experience positive heart-felt emotions such as love, care, appreciation and compassion, the heart produces a very different rhythm. It is smooth and harmonious. This is one of the key indicators of a healthy efficient heart and a well-balanced nervous system.

Positive emotions may also evoke healthy behaviors in people making them less likely to smoke and drink, and more likely to exercise, which in turn leads to additional positive physiological responses such as improved sleep quality and HDL cholesterol.

Renown cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish, who in the past believed that a low-fat diet and exercise would guarantee heart health and even reverse heart disease, now believes that emotional health is equally important. He said that even those who experience what he calls passive negative emotions such as loneliness, depression, and isolation are many times more likely to get sick and die prematurely, not only of heart disease, but from all causes. On the flip side, having a sense of connection, love and community extends lives.

While it is true that a heart healthy diet is good for your heart, it is also important to remember these four keys to a happy heart:

Live life to the fullest by taking advantage of all our community has to offer.

Love by creating new bonds of friendship with those around you.

Laugh often even at yourself, because we know that laughter is good medicine, and don’t forget

Exercise because now more than ever, the phrase “use it or lose it” applies.