Why looking after your heart is the best way to boost your mental wellbeing?

Is looking after your heart the best way to boost your mental wellbeing.

Scientists have acknowledged the mind and body connections existence for a while. Still, over the last 20-30 years, we have begun to be able to pinpoint specific mechanisms within our body that highlight and explain this connection. 

When the mind is stressed, the body tenses up, when we exercise, resting muscle tension decreases, and we feel more relaxed mentally too. However, there are countless numbers of ways in which our mind and body seem to be interlinked and even dependent on one another to help each other out occasionally.

Heart and mental wellbeing

Over the last 30 years, we have been collecting more and more evidence that the heart plays a significant role in influencing our mental wellbeing. It was as far back as the 1960s, and 1970’s when the first breakthrough studies were occurring.

Stand out breakthroughs

John and Beatrice Lacey demonstrated that the heart was not only a muscular pump for circulating blood around the body but was also an organ that was capable of high intelligence, with its nervous system, decision making powers, and attachments to the brain.

In 1991, Dr Andrew Armour discovered the heart contains 40,000 neurons called the ‘sensory neuritis’, which are capable of remembering, discerning, and making decisions. This sensory neuritis is linked to the Vagus nerve, which connects the heart to the brain and other internal organs and plays a massive role in our mental wellbeing.

The heart, exercise and anxiety link explained

Doctors now prescribe exercise almost as frequently as prescription medications for treating mental health disorders like anxiety or depression.

When we discovered the hormone ANP, we began to understand one of the reasons exercise (primarily aerobic) is so effective at treating anxiety.

The heart muscles secrete ANP when we exercise, which directly affects the hypothalamus to modulate the HPA axis (ANP produced in the brain, in areas that have significant influence over stress and anxiety).

A 2001 study ANP showed to reduce panic attacks significantly. During a panic attack, we release high volumes of what is known as CRF (corticopotrin releasing factor) which causes high levels of stress, but ANP works against CRF acting as a type of drag brake.

In fact, during pregnancy, women release three times the average volume of ANP, which may suggest it is a built-in mechanism for protecting the child’s developing brain from the toxic effects of stress and anxiety.

ANP dampens the activity of the sympathetic nervous systems response by slowing down epinephrine production, which leads to a lower heart rate and reduces the feelings of anxiousness. Individuals who suffer from frequent panic attacks may have an ANP deficit. 

The heart and its magnetic field

Research has shown that different patterns of cardiovascular activity cause different effects on our cognitive and emotional functions. When we enter a stressful state, our heart enters a level of incoherence, which significantly affects our decision-making and management of emotions.

Reinforcing coherent messaging between the heart and brain helps to improve cognitive functioning and enhances positive feelings as well as emotional stability.

How to improve the heart and mind connection?

Practising activities like yoga (in the form of therapy), mindfulness, meditation, autogenic relaxation and visualization, specific breathing exercises, and gentle cardiovascular exercise are among the safest options to improve the heart-brain connection alongside regular prescribed medications or treatments by a doctor or healthcare professional.

We would personally recommend looking at trying breathing exercises that affect the vagus nerve. Try breathing in slowly for 4 seconds and out slowly for 8 seconds. This is said to be the pace at which we stimulate the vagus nerve.