Waking up with a positive attitude
at any age helps your heart health

It’s important to have a purpose
of life at every age in life

A recent study explored the role of life purpose in your heart health. Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and Health System followed nearly 7,000 adults over the age of 50 in the US Health and Retirement Study. Their findings were telling, having a purpose in life may decrease your risk of dying early. It’s also a modifiable risk factor that improves both physical and mental health.

Dr. Robert Benton is a board-certified cardiologist and Director of Clinical Research at Capital Cardiology Associates. Since 2011, Dr. Benton and fellow Capital Cardiology Associates physician Dr. Scott Morris, along with two clinical nurses, have participated in the “Walk With A Doc” program in Troy. Locally the walks happen on the second Saturday of the month. During the winter, the walks take place inside Robison Gym on the campus of Sage College. In the summer, the walks are outdoors at Troy Riverfront Park. Dr. Benton sees dual benefits in walking: the first is that walking is one of the best exercises for people of all ages and abilities. The second is the social aspect. “We talk about sports and politics, life… people get to know each other,” adds Benton. These small steps help to create a purpose in life that may move participants further from the risk of heart disease.

Defining a purpose in life

Purposeful living has been defined in various ways. In general, purpose in life can be defined as “a self-organizing life aim that stimulates goals,” promotes healthy behaviors, and gives meaning to life. Dr. Benton expanded on how purposeful living may have health benefits. “It’s concrete, those who have an aim in their life, a true meaning; they see the value in their life when they wake up every day.” Researchers found that people who didn’t have a strong life purpose were more likely to have cardiovascular and blood conditions. Dr. Benton concurred. “Lack of purpose leads to feeling hopeless. Those without hope are less likely to take good care of themselves.” The team examined studies that report that those who with a strong purpose in life engage in healthy behaviors, sleep better, have lower instances of stroke, depression, and diabetes. Simply put, being near death leads to a lower value in life, creating an opening for chronic illness.

Purpose in life is not solely an American value. A Japanese study investigated ikigai, which is defined as “something to live for, the joy and goal of living.” Globally, as adults age, our life purpose changes as we age. In our younger years, we tend to focus on our family and career. Fulfillment could be raising children, caring for older parents, building a career or business. Dr. Benton touched on the importance of having that feeling of accomplishment as a positive force in our life as we age.” Sometimes you might find a little fuzziness in life. It might be hard to set or finish goals on a timetable if you are retired or don’t have a specific function. For these folks, you need to find another way to contribute, either volunteer or become involved with a community group, that offers the opportunity to feel a purpose,” he said.

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The role of stress in our daily life

One myth is that as we near retirement, life stresses will lessen. This is not true. “I have conversations with my patients on their lives, their interests, their stress (children or older parents they may care for). I try to find out about their life,” says Dr. Benton. “It’s important for me to have that conversation with them. Especially when you meet a person who’s had good blood pressure control, suddenly they come in, and their blood pressure reading is sky high or abnormal. I ask, ‘what else is going on in life?’ Who would not have some challenges in life that lead to more stress? This is related to high blood pressure, higher cortisol levels; these both cause long term damage from your body reacting to stress. I want to know what is stressing them out to cause them not to feel well.”

Stress leads to depression, which creates a feeling of hopelessness. Dr. Benton explained how stress and depression could attack your heart. “It’s important that if you feel it or are a friend or loved one of someone feeling hopeless that you talk with a doctor. This feeling of hopelessness can lead to takotsubo, better known as broken heart syndrome. This is when people go through terrible stress, and they have what looks like a heart attack, it’s scary to us. The theory is the severe outpouring of adrenaline causes decreased blood flow to the heart. We see this more and more. Obviously, they are acute situations. What helps? Activities, exercise, and having a sense of purpose in life.”

Syracuse University researchers found that vacationing is good for your heart. Taking time off improves your metabolic health as well as your mental health. Lowered metabolic risks are associated with improvements to overall heart health risks over one’s lifetime. They also found that vacation time is available to nearly 80 percent of full-time employees, but fewer than half utilize all the time available to them. “It’s vital, and I’m even going to do this for the first time in years, take a vacation,” said Dr. Benton. And if you can’t get away, he urges the need to “take a break to slow down. Meditate. Practice mindfulness. You are not built to go full speed 24/7.”

Written by Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.