Joy in Running

Joy in Running

HEART HEALTH

Joy in Running

For adults, running offers unmatched health benefits. How can we recapture the joy in running later in life?

Almost 45 years ago, Thaddeus Kostrubala, MD, a psychiatrist, wrote his bestselling book, “The Joy of Running.” Dr. Kostrubala was one of the first medical professionals in the mid-1970s to investigate the benefits of long-distance running, specifically its effect on a person’s mental and physical health. He began running in San Diego in his early 40s after realizing that his weight, family history, and a lifestyle of limited exercise put him at high risk for a heart attack. After finishing his 3-mile run, at a slow pace, Dr. Kostrubala noted that he was joyful. As he continued running, he identified that reaching a cardiovascular rate of 75-80 percent around the 45-minute point in a distance run three times a week, brought the most health benefits. For almost 45 years, Dr. Kostrubala was called “The Running Doctor” or “The Running Psychiatrist” until his passing on September 4, 2020.

One point that Dr. Kostrubala made in one of his final interviews with Runner’s World was that walking, jogging, and running are activities that date back to the earliest humans, who relied on their feet to travel, some 4-million years ago. That thought came to mind as I watched my nephews chase each other around the backyard during a family cookout this past summer. They were laughing, loudly, as their little legs carried them around the yard. When we were younger, running was fun. There was such freedom found in our youth as we ran as fast as possible. When did we lose that joy? Is it possible to recapture it later in life?

Joy in running became personal as I entered my mid-30s for similar reasons as Dr. Kostrubala. I have a family history of diabetes and stroke. After an annual visit with my doctor, along with some changes to my diet, I needed to find a daily form of exercise that could help manage my “bad” cholesterol numbers. I started by jogging around my neighborhood on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Those jogs gradually led to slow runs where distance and my speed increased. After a year, I entered my first 5K. After that event, I was hooked! I reached out to Charles Woodruff, a former collegiate runner at the University of Connecticut, who has been coaching runners of all abilities since 1994. Woodruff also owns the Fleet Feet running stores in Malta and Albany. He joined me on a recent episode of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates, as we discussed the recent spike in those who have rediscovered the joy in running.

Starting over

Just as every run has a beginning, so does every runner. The image of a marathon or long-distance runner may come to mind, but if you have a routine of going out three to four times or log a few miles every week, you are a runner. As Coach Woodruff outlined, the most important component in any running routine is rest. “We don’t rest enough; we become a slave to miles or how much we are doing. We need to realize that our bodies are capable of adapting to just about anything. Running is a very progressive sport. You want to approach it gradually.” Start easy is the best advice he offers. “If a friend got you into running, you might not be where they are, and you shouldn’t be trying to keep up with them. Running is a very individual sport.” If your last distance run was the mile in high school, your body needs at least 12 weeks to adjust. The best beginner plan starts with 30 minutes walks that build up to 30 minutes of running.

Once you start your running plan, be ready for changes. I didn’t fully embrace an athlete’s mindset until this year when I began training to run my first 10K. My “weekly” runs became more structured. Instead of getting a run or two during the week and one on the weekend, I formed a plan that increased in time/distance runs with set rest and active rest days. I learned early on how important rest is, especially the days following a five-mile run! Coach Woodruff noted that aches are normal initially — as long as they don’t develop into pain that lasts for more than a day or two. I also realized that proper running gear, hydrating after a run, getting enough protein in my diet, and quality sleep at night are the building blocks necessary for success.

Coach Woodruff’s advice

“When we form our training groups, one of the things we emphasize all of the time is that in a group, you are part of a community. Even when running with other people, you need to be doing this for yourself. You are going to be successful when you take the gifts and talents that you already have and maximize them. Don’t worry about being fast or being the slowest person in the group. If you are taking what you have and working hard to make it better – that’s where you will find success.”

WHAT TO WEAR

“The five things you need to have hanging in your closest for winter running: a good base layer, briefs that are not cotton, hat and gloves, element jacket, shoes, and socks. Come in and talk with us at Fleet Feet and we will be happy to point you in the right direction for gear.”

SAFETY FIRST

“Make sure you are wearing apparel that has reflective material on your moving parts, like your arms and legs. This helps drivers see you more clearly. Make sure you are running on the left-hand side of the road against traffic. Don’t run with your back to the road.”

How running improves your heart health

For adults, running offers unmatched health benefits. It lowers your risk of heart attack or stroke. A massive study in 2014 on running and heart health showed that it’s good for your bones, blood pressure, and brain. This study covered all forms of running: slow, fast, short, and long. As you run, the exercise causes your heart to increase blood flow, training the heart to pump more efficiently. We often don’t think of the heart as a muscle, but it is. Running increases the myocardium (heart muscle), strengthening the heart’s ability to pump blood (ejection fraction) through your vascular system. I never considered how my heart functions while watching TV on my couch, but I think about it during every run. Every stride is making me stronger in ways I cannot see.

Another point I shared with Coach Woodruff was how, during a run, I have some of my best thoughts. He pointed to science, how during exercise, blood flow improves, sending more oxygen through our vascular system, and bringing fresh energy to our brains. While we are listening to music, focusing on the road ahead, or enjoying the scenery, the neurons in part our brain that processes critical thinking and memory are highly active. Some research has suggested that aerobic exercise improves cognitive function, aiding in boosting our memory. The biological effects of running provide a fresh supply of nutrients to the brain, enhancing the brain function all aid in a more “hyper-alert” mind, a by-product that leads runners to say, “I do my best thinking while running!”

Joy in running

In one of his final interviews with Runner’s World, Dr. Kostrubala opened up on when he found his joy in running. It happened after he completed his first 3 miles at a slow pace. For him, the joy replaced depression, which motivated him to pursue greater distances, eventually finishing marathons. In 2011, he shared that when leukemia hit, his chemotherapy made him weak. His runs downgraded to walks, which he could do for about half an hour until he had to use a wheelchair. For almost sixty years, Dr. Kostrubala advocated that running can save your life — and your soul.

I thought about Dr. Kostrubala’s words during my conversation with Charles Woodruff. I had found my joy in running. This may sound odd, but I was excited to wake up before my alarm at 5:30 on summer mornings to go for a run. Why? Because that time is my time. Every beginning ignited a sense of purpose; every finish brought a feeling of accomplishment. Coach Woodruff is a morning runner; he’s logged thousands of miles before sunrise. “There is something magical in seeing the sun coming up, seeing the animals, this feeling that you own the world. There are no distractions. The world is waking up, and you can hear the sound of your feet. It’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

I thought about Dr. Kostrubala’s words during my conversation with Charles Woodruff. I had found my joy in running. This may sound odd, but I was excited to wake up before my alarm at 5:30 on summer mornings to go for a run. Why? Because that time is my time. Every beginning ignited a sense of purpose; every finish brought a feeling of accomplishment. Coach Woodruff is a morning runner; he’s logged thousands of miles before sunrise. “There is something magical in seeing the sun coming up, seeing the animals, this feeling that you own the world. There are no distractions. The world is waking up, and you can hear the sound of your feet. It’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

Work and Heart Health

Work and Heart Health

HEART HEALTH

Are you working
toward an increased
risk of heart disease?

“Job strain” and
stress can be more
dangerous than
hard work

It is a known fact that some careers and jobs are more hazardous than others. For service-oriented professions like firefighters, police officers, or military/soldiers where intensity levels can fluctuate from 0 to 100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds, there is a known risk of the impact of developing irregular heart rhythms or poor blood flow. Researchers have deeply studied the biological pathway between high-strain jobs and the development of atrial fibrillation, connecting mental stress as the cause of elevated blood pressure, inflammation and hypertension, and abnormal electrical activity in the left atrial of the heart. Science has also shown the role in the release of adrenaline and other hormones inside the body that can trigger arrhythmia, causing generalized inflammation that is associated with atherosclerosis; the process that leads to heart disease and blockages in the arteries.

But what about those with desk jobs? What is their risk?

Miranda VonFricken

Miranda VonFricken is a Life & Career Coach based in the Albany area, she is also a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She joined us for a recent episode of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates to discuss careers, COVID, and heart health. The phrase “work/life balance” is trendy among job seekers, as it depicts a situation where there are clear work and home-life boundaries. “People are talking more about mental and heart health now more than ever. A lot of people in the community are engaged, and so are employers. The stress that comes with working full-time, at-home, with children requires more flexibility from employers,” VonFricken added. This applies to workers searching for new opportunities due to COVID economic downsizing or those looking to make a career change to meet employment demands.

Stress is the number one contributor to heart health problems in the workplace. Sadly, something as simple as a change in shift work (from day to night) or work hours, over time, can affect your heart rhythm. The Women’s Health Study (WHS) is one of the largest and longest-running observational studies of women’s health in the United States. The study included almost 40,000 female health professionals aged 45 years old and older, who were followed for an average of 10 years. Some of the results showed that our body doesn’t distinguish stress as well as our mind does. For example, an emergency triggers life-saving chemicals and hormones to be released that increases our body’s functioning abilities. We have a boost in speed, strength, or stamina in “fight or flight” situations. That reaction is similar when the stress comes from deadlines, interactions with co-workers, or pressure moments at work. What’s worse, an email or text on vacation can trigger that same stress. The amount of stress we carry in our work-life may vary, but everyone can recall or relate to instances where simply worrying about potential work problems consumed our thoughts. In those stressful moments, the body is still releasing the chemicals and hormones needed to confront or escape those perceived threats.

Harvard researchers involved in the WHS trial were unable to find how job strain gives rise to heart health issues. Scientists examined how stress physically affects the body, triggering inflammation in coronary arteries leading to blood clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Mental health experts point to stress as a contributor to bad lifestyle choices. People who are stressed out tend to find it harder to consistently exercise, eat a healthy diet, get regular sleep, and avoid excess drinking or tobacco use. One surprise finding was workers who perceive that they are subjected to high demands but have little control are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

What you can do

❤ Foster mutually supportive relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.
❤ Get regular exercise. It’s good for the heart, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves sleep.
❤ Limit intrusions (such as work-related e-mails) on your life outside of work.
❤ Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, or visualization.
❤ If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek help from a mental health professional.

Find a job you love

There is an old saying that some will point to on workplace stress, “find a job you love, and you will never work another day in life.” While most Americans enjoy their job, the fact remains that most people spend about 25% of their adult lives working. We are also putting in more hours on the job than any other industrialized nation. According to an International Labor Organization study, Americans put in the equivalent of an extra 40-hour workweek in 2000 compared to ten years previously. We are also working harder. In a 2001 survey, nearly 40% of workers described their office environment as “most like a real-life survivor program.”

The American Heart Association created Workplace Health Solutions to help employers and employees assess and monitor their heart health. The assessment is grounded in the evidence-informed science of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7®, the seven most important predictors of heart health. What’s unique about this resource is that the program is an easy 4-minute assessment that allows employees to assess their heart health and take small, simple steps that can result in real improvements.

Find Joy Painting

VonFricken also offered advice on committing to personal and professional goals to eliminate stress from daily life. She recommends creating a vision board, a visual tool that can be words, images, photos, or a combination of all three. These boards are typically poster-sized. “The principle is that as you walk by it, you exchange energy with it. I literally have a conversation with my vision board every day. These are things that I want; my goals are focused on the person who I want to be. ‘I am confident. I am strong. I am absolutely determined to achieve my goals.’ These are my affirmations,” VonFricken explained. And, they are not just for adults looking for accountability or inspiration to reach personal or professional goals. “My (eight-year-old) daughter has one with cookies on it! She wants cookies, wants to learn how to ride a bike and get a laptop. Just seeing these pictures every day gives you the power to make them happen.”

Written by Michael Arce, Host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

Photos by Brett Sayles and Bich Tran from Pexels

RX for EX

RX for EX

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES

RX for EX

HOW HEART PATIENTS
CAN SAFELY STAY ACTIVE

Regular activity and exercise are two of the most important things you can do daily for your heart health. But how, and how much? On a recent episode of HeartTalk, presented by Captial Cardiology Associates, Dan Myers shared tips on how heart patients can safely stay active. Myers has over 25 years of experience as a certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist. He began his career as the Director of the Coronary Detection and Intervention Center at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

In your experience creating exercise requirements for heart patients, where do you start?

It all begins with a review of a person’s Health History. Most heart patients have had a stress test. Based on the results of that stress test, a target heart rate (THR) is generated. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 60-90% of the maximum heart rate (MHR) comfortably achieved during the stress test. However, other factors need to be taken into consideration.

ITEMS TO CONSIDER

• The present level of health and fitness
• Orthopedic considerations
• Medications

Individuals who have not exercised regularly need to start slow in the 60-70% range. Whereas someone who has been active, 70-90% is a good THR. It would help if you remembered not only are you going to be overloading your cardiovascular system, your muscles, bones, and connective tissue need to adapt to progressive overload. The biggest mistake is to do too much too soon. Sometimes THR is not appropriate primary due to medications that blunt HR at rest and with exercise. Perceived Exertion is recommended. This number represents your overall feeling of exertion. Not just the way your heart and breathing feel but the way your muscles bones and connective tissue feel. The goal is to be working “somewhat hard” if your overall feeling is comfortable, you are probably not working hard enough. On the other hand, if your overall experience is hard to extremely hard you are overdoing it.

Research shows that if you work extremely hard, you do not get any considerable benefits, and the incidents of a repetitive stress injury increases. If you hurt yourself and you cannot exercise, you have to start all over. So why risk it? Choose an aerobic activity that you like! Try to do it for 30 minutes every day. You should be able to carry on a conversation while you are exercising. If you cannot be overdoing it.

What is an exercise physiologist’s role when working with a cardiologist, nurse, dietician, or primary care provider?

When an individual comes to Capital Cardiology, it is usually because they are symptomatic. Chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, syncope. Some are referred to a cardiologist because they have an abnormal EKG, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, all major coronary risk factors. Based on their symptoms, our cardiologist then starts an investigation. The results of this thorough examination are used to make a plan to correct the underlying problem that caused the patient to seek medical attention. The program may require the patient to have intervention such as catheterization, a stent or bypass surgery.

All this information is used by the exercise physiologist to design a safe and valid exercise prescription. The cardiologist decides when it is safe to begin to exercise. Once they have been given the green light, that’s when I take over. Again, it is all about looking at the individual’s health history, the results of any testing they have had. This information along the patient’s goals form the basis of an exercise prescription.

What are some ways to walk for at least 10 minutes per day?

Aerobic exercise requires rhythm contraction of large muscle groups sustained over a length of time. Many heart patients have claudication, cramping of the leg muscles. For those individuals, we recommend walking as far as they can tolerate, stop, sit down and rest, and, when recovered, do it again. Slowly build up to a goal of 30 minutes a day.

How much water should a heart patient drink daily?

The rule of thumb for everyone is to drink eight, 8 ounces of water, daily. For every caffeinated beverage you consume, add two more glasses of water. It is estimated that 60% of our population walk around dehydrated. This can lead to all kinds of health issues. People do not realize that during the night, as we sleep, we lose water through our respiration. One of the best things you can do, first thing in the morning is to drink two glasses of water. Think of it like this: water is a celebration of life. Every time you drink a glass of water, you are celebrating your life. One sign to see if you are drinking enough water: your urine should be the color of lemonade by midday. If it is darker than that you are most likely dehydrated.

What other forms of cardio activity exist outside of running or walking?

There is a principle in aerobic exercise called Specificity of Training. Every time you perform aerobic exercise doesn’t matter what kind of aerobic exercise, there is a central training effect. You are either maintaining or improving your heart, lungs, and circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. The ability to take the oxygen and nutrients out of the bloodstream is specific to the muscles that are used to perform that form of aerobic exercise. That is why Cross Training is advised. The more variety of aerobic exercise performed, the healthier your entire body gets. This also cuts down on the incidence of repetitive stress injuries. Something else to keep in mind when performing aerobic exercise.

Most cardiac rehab programs focus on 5-6 weeks of building up to a 45-minute walk at least five days a week. Walking, jogging, cross country skiing are all considered weight-bearing exercises because they are performed standing up on your feet. Cycling, rowing is done in the seated position and therefore are non-weight bearing examples of aerobic exercise. This an important consideration, especially for the female population because it helps offset the onset and progression of osteoporosis.

The importance of stretching

There are two categories of stretches, active and passive. Active stretches may be static, dynamic, or ballistic. Passive stretches are normally performed as static or dynamic (as in Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation).

Types of stretching

• Active Stretch: This happens when the person stretching supplies the force of the stretch.
• Passive Stretch: This occurs when a partner or device provides the force for the stretch.
• Static Stretch: A constant stretch in which the end position is held for 30 seconds. It includes passive relaxation and concurrent elongation of the muscle. It is easy to learn and effective. It does not elicit the stretch reflex of the stretched tissue, and the likelihood of injury is less than if ballistic stretching is used. It helps to relieve muscle soreness and is relaxing when correct methods are used. The sitting toe touch is an example of a static stretch.

STAGES OF STATIC STRETCHING

1. Get into the starting position of the stretching exercise. Try to stay relaxed during the whole stretch and breath slowly in and out through your nose.
2. Move the body or body segment into the stretching movement (easy stretch) until a mild stretching of the muscle is felt.
3. From the easy stretch position, slowly increase the intensity of the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Do not bounce while stretching!
4. Do not stretch so far that pain is felt in the muscle or joint. If this happens slowly, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

Employee Health and Fitness

Employee Health and Fitness

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES

A Healthier Workforce

The push to improve the health and
fitness levels in America’s workforce

To say that Diane Hart has dedicated her life to health and fitness is an understatement. In 1981, she launched Hart to Heart Fitness, her personal training business in Albany County. Her career path extended to launching corporate wellness and resilience programs for area businesses. Diane’s leadership skills and passion for helping people change their health and lifestyle led to her current role as President and Executive Director of the National Association for Health and Fitness (NAHF). She brought her signature “high energy” personality to a recent episode of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates, to discuss workplace health and fitness.

Advocating for healthier communities

Moments before our program, Diane had just finished a phone call with Senator Chuck Schumer. She shared the details of their conversation, Diane was lobbying for consideration of legislation to be included in the Senate’s next Stimulus Package. “We have attempted to pass this for six years, it’s the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act. This has tremendous bipartisan support,” she added. PHIT would make any expense exclusively intended to be physically active, eligible for FSA/HSA reimbursement. This would cover sporting equipment, health club memberships, youth camps, pay to play sports fees, tournaments, and fitness tracking devices for health conditions (like heart disease). “This act promotes a healthy culture. When you look at healthcare costs today, 3.3 trillion expenditures go towards people with chronic and mental health conditions, which we know physical activity can improve. We also hope this will relieve some of the comorbidity factors Americans face due to COVID.”

Diane Hart accepting the 2016 President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award

Advocating for legislation that improves American communities’ health is just a part of the NAHF’s mission. The Association’s members are also leaders in developing change-behavior programs, like Global Employee Health and Fitness Month (GEHFM). This event, traditionally, was a workplace-focused health awareness month held during May. It’s active in 38 states, with almost 7,000 companies and organizations participating. However, Hart noted that following the impact of the pandemic, 2020’s edition would need to be updated. “We realized the need to move it virtually when the world moved to work from home and exited office buildings.”

The state of health in the American workforce

A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation survey reports that 82% of large firms and 53% of small employers across the country offer some form of a wellness program. There are two reasons why: many employers believe that improving their workers’ health and their family members can improve morale and productivity and reduce health care costs. The CDC reported the systematic review of 56 published studies of worksite health programs which showed that well-implemented workplace health programs can lead to 25% savings each on absenteeism, health care costs, and workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs. The CDC added that productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year or $225.8 billion annually. Healthy workers are more productive workers, and that helps the company’s bottom line.

Today’s job seekers are also looking for employee benefits that extend past competitive compensation, medical/dental/vision coverage, and time-off. Employers who consistently rank as a “Top Workplace” has noticed that Americans working full-time spend more than one-third of their day, five days per week at the workplace. Applicants are pursuing happiness — an offering that includes work/life balance and positive workplace culture. Firms with an on-site gym or those that offer gym memberships as perks are highly sought by savvy job hunters. While these amenities may not be possible for all business owners, Hart pointed out examples of company fitness opportunities like participating in 5K runs or healthy eating demonstrations, creating healthy moments where individuals can bring these good habits home. “The excitement from participating in these projects needs to expand to help families and children.”

The recent push to offer health incentives has not moved the needle on the state health for the American workforce. “I’m sad about that,” Hart said as she took a deep breath. “We are actually 35th in the world, mostly because our workforce is over-worked.” Last year, Spain surpassed Italy on the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 economies according to factors that contribute to overall health. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, by 2040, Spain is forecasted to have the highest lifespan at almost 86 years. The country has seen a decline in cardiovascular diseases and deaths from cancer. Experts note that their eating habits, particularly following the Mediterranean diet, have reduced Spain’s obesity rate. That is not the case in America.

Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity are the two main causes of heart disease. According to an article from Corporate Wellness Magazine, more than 50% of health care costs in the United States are due to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking, inactivity, and weight gain. Healthy workplace activities and programs reduce the development of chronic disease risk factors like alcohol/tobacco use, raised blood pressure, and high blood sugar or cholesterol levels — all by-products of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. “When I look at the chronic diseases in America, six out of ten of us as adults have a chronic disease or condition,” noted Hart. “Sadly, we know that most heart disease cases, heart attack, stroke, and cancer can be prevented through good lifestyle choices and regular health screenings.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

Faith and Heart Health

Faith and Heart Health

HEART HEALTH

Faith and Heart Health

“Spiritual nourishment
is important during times
like this, as is the power
of prayer.”

Growing up, many of us can recall the Sunday mornings spent wrestling into itchy wool sweaters or button-up shirts with a collar. Trying to duck and miss mother’s freshly licked thumb coming our way to wipe food stains from our face while pushing our hair into place. We walked as a family, together, into church those mornings. It’s funny, as an adult, getting ready for church on Sunday morning can still be hectic and rushed, minus mom’s last-minute grooming. The younger version of me would never believe that an older me would attend church from my living room couch. I may have daydreamed about this opportunity in my youth, but sitting in a pew with my brother and sisters between our parents, that idea was pure fiction. Yet, in 2020, this is reality.

I reached out to Rev. Fr. Stepanos Doudoukjian of St. Peter Armenian Church in Watervliet to discuss the connection of faith and heart health. Fr. Stepanos has been serving the community for over 25 years, encouraging young families to embrace the Armenian church and participate on Sunday mornings. He was one of the first people I witnessed adjusting to the challenges of social distancing — moving Sunday Services online with Facebook Live and YouTube videos. “I went into pastoral mode right away,” he recalls. “My family was with me. They like to serve as well; together for about two and a half months, we did services inside the sanctuary. When the weather changed, we were given the okay to move outdoors. We did that for about a month and a half. Most recently, we have met underneath our pavilion where people can meet – physically distanced – and participate in services.”

How church affects heart health

There is plenty of scientific evidence on how regular worship/fellowship attendance is good for the body and soul. Overall, experts have found that people who embrace a religious lifestyle are more likely to take better care of themselves. A study that spanned three decades, following 2,600 California residents who reported weekly religious attendance had strong mental health, increased social relationships, and marital stability – all factors to a long, healthy life. The study’s lead author, Dr. William J. Strawbridge, noted that “the specific mechanisms involved are worth understanding because thee may be broadly generalizable to individual and community health promotion endeavors.” Examples of these would be sponsoring smoking cessation programs, the concept of viewing one’s body with respect, relationship building opportunities, a supportive friendship/community dynamic, a stronger sense of self-control, and increased self-esteem. These good health behaviors intervene “before illness strikes and provide effective self-care treatment strategies when it does.”

Jewish mother and son lighting menorah

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

A Vanderbilt University study explored the old saying, “too blessed to be stressed.” Investigators from the school’s Center for Research on Men’s Health examined the relationship between attending church, stress, and causes of death in middle-aged adults. They found that people who attend worship service reduce their mortality risk by 55%, while those who did not attend church at all were twice as likely to die prematurely. As we have previously reported, one of the secrets of the world’s longest-living people, is a purpose of life and the sense of belonging that comes when attending faith-based services four times a month (no matter the denomination) add up to 14 years of life expectancy. After performing a funeral service for a partitioner who was 101 years old, Fr. Stepanos realized Faith’s evidence in longer life. “We have a lot of elderly, a lot of people who continue to live well in their 80s and 90s. I have always been intrigued that people in our church community tend to live longer.”

The role of spirituality during a pandemic

April has many religious holidays, from Easter to Passover and Ramadan (May 5th), that typically bring parishioners to Sunday services. In years past, sermons and messages would focus on passages of scripture that recount historical times of struggle, oppression, and redemption. The coronavirus pandemic presented real-life situations that left Americans asking for help. Fr. Stepanos recognized the uniqueness of our time when preparing his sermons. “I tapped into my concerns and worries, and also those of our people. I have stayed in contact with them to hear their concerns.”

Man praying

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

As researchers and drug companies race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, many Americans have turned to prayer, seeking intervention from a higher power to deliver relief. “Spiritual nourishment is important during times like this, as is the power of prayer,” Fr. Stepanos reminded his congregation. The Kansas City Heart Rhythm Institute is currently investigating the use of a “universal” prayer offered to hospitalized coronavirus patients by five religious denominations (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism) in addition to health care. The study began in June with a completion date of August 31st. The study’s lead analyst is a cardiologist, Dr. Dhanunjaya Lakkireddy. “I believe in the power of all religions,” he told NPR. Lakkireddy, like many spiritual leaders, believes in miracles. Fr. Stepanos echoed the effect of prayer in medicine. “Faith is important in recovery. The Bible, our Faith, our liturgy, all speak to the fact that God is not separated from us even in the midst of this pandemic. Nothing can do that to those that believe.”

Written by Michael Arce, Host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates