Emotions Affect Our Health

The two articles I want to highlight from this past week are both important subjects centered around emotions and health. The first article is about a link between depression and heart disease. The second article is about how meditation could be just as effective as traditional therapy in treating PTSD. Below you’ll find these articles and my thoughts on their implications.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed below are those of Mark Pew, Senior Vice President of Product Development and Marketing, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Preferred Medical.

How Your Emotions Can Hurt Your Heart 

An 11-year study in Norway has found that there is significant evidence that links depression and heart disease. The study found that moderate to severe depression raised subjects’ risk of heart failure by 40 percent. A second study was done in Canada that evaluated factors that cause depression in patients who undergo cardiac surgery. The study found that those who were physically inactive before surgery were twice as likely to have symptoms of depression before their heart procedure. The conclusion here is that both studies found a strong link between lack of physical exercise, depression, and heart disease. There is no cause and effect here, but it is evident that physical activity helps improve quality of life for heart patients.

Mark’s Thoughts:
The Cleveland Clinic also agrees about the importance of physical activity, but in this case how it relates to depression and heart disease. “Physical activity is a key factor in fighting both depression and heart disease. It also helps patients better prepare for heart surgery and recover more quickly afterward. The evidence suggests that exercise is one of the most powerful tools in lessening the mental and physical effects of heart disease as well as being one of the most basic tactics for controlling depression.” Why? Because “Motion is Lotion” per Dr. Mel Pohl. Another friend mentioned another corresponding slogan…”Motion changes emotion.” Whether lotion or emotion, motion is incredibly important. While the intensity of the motion (optimum heart rate = 55-85 percent of (220 – your age) for 20-30 minutes) matters, it matters less than doing whatever you can (even if not-so-intense or low-impact). The exercises listed in this article — aerobic exercises other than running, swimming, yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, strength training — will all help. For example, “Low-impact aerobic exercise coupled with strength training builds lean muscle mass.” Just in case you didn’t know, “lean” is good.

Meditation Helps Vets With Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A study sponsored by the Department of Defense looked into the benefits of meditation versus exposure therapy in treating veterans with PTSD. Exposure therapy doesn’t work for many as they either won’t try it or drop out due to recalling painful memories. The results show that after a standard PTSD assessment, 61 percent of the meditation group improved and 42 percent of the exposure therapy group.

Mark’s Thoughts:
Meditation…a form of the broader mindfulness construct (read more about it here)…helped some military veterans deal with PTSD. It worked just as well as traditional therapy (in this case, “exposure therapy…working with a therapist and gradually letting go of fears triggered by painful memories”) in a small study by the Department of Defense. There were some limitations to the study — one therapist did 80% of the exposure therapy, there has been no follow-up on lasting results, most participants were men with combat-related trauma — but “evidence for meditation ‘allows us to put more options on the table’ with confidence they work.” And that’s been my main point for a while. Nobody can predict what treatment(s) will work for an individual, so both the provider and patient need to be open to #AllOfTheAbove using a #BioPsychoSocialSpiritual framework. You may think you’ve never practiced meditation or mindfulness. But every single person has, at some point, had to take a deep breath because everything was out of control. Not re-living the past. Not worrying about the future. Just focusing on this specific second. That may be meditation, prayer, going to “your happy place,” or just being still. For some people, like soldiers with PTSD, that need for a deep breath can come often. Figuring out ways to properly manage that moment will help it be only temporary…momentary. Easier said than done, for sure. But doable. By many means, including meditation.

Additionally, here’s some extremely helpful context posted as a comment from one of my clinical mentors, Geralyn Datz, PhD (behavioral psychologist):

“The VA has been using meditation of various types for a number of years in their PTSD interventions. There was a study in 2016 in military medicine also discussing this. In that study, half of the patients practiced Meditation in addition to their other therapy and the other half did not. After one month nearly 84% of those meditating had stabilized and reduced or even stopped their use of psychotropic drugs to treat their PTSD. Only 10% increased their medication doses in that same time period. Conversely, of those who didn’t meditate 59% had stabilized or reduced or stop taking psycho tropic drugs. Similar percentages were found in the following months and a six month follow-up. It makes sense that Meditation would work in this context. When soldiers come home from the war, many are in a fight or flight state which makes them hyper vigilant, irritable, anxious and prone to overreacting. The basic tenets of meditation are calming the mind, noticing emotions without participating in them, and settling the central nervous system. So basically Meditation is doing the opposite of the activation response. Some think that Meditation isn’t really doing anything, but we know from neuroscience research this is not true. There are measurable changes in the brain and in the level of neurotransmitter responses that show that there are changes occurring, and these changes are in line with what we would consider healing.

To read everything on my mind this past week, please visit me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/marks-musings-december-3-mark-rxprofessor-pew/.

Until next week,