Strengthen the Heart: Pray, Meditate, Exercise
Cardiovascular disease — including heart disease and stroke — is the leading cause of death in Mississippi, accounting for over a third of all deaths in the state. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, Mississippi’s CVD mortality rate is the highest in the nation.
There are three things, though, shown to strengthen our hearts: prayer, meditation and exercise.
Mary Hatcher is 79 years old and is a retired R.N., wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. She is starting an intercessory prayer group at Watermark Congregational Methodist Church in Lucedale.
“As a senior adult and Christian for many years, I know how prayer has a calming effect in my everyday life,” Hatcher said. She frequently quotes from the bible: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov. 17:22).
Hatcher cites studies where individuals who have prayer time are less likely to have blood pressure problems. Prayer has been shown to boost the immune system by releasing dopamine, which is associated with well-being and joy.
Meditation is a practice — often using deep breathing, quiet contemplation, or sustained focus on something benign such as color, phrase, or sound — that, just as with prayer, helps you let go of stress and feel peaceful and maintain a relaxed state of mind.
Vrunda Vaghela, Washington, D.C. architect whose hometown is Batesville, Mississippi, practices meditation. She focuses on her breathing to become fully aware of the present moment.
Meditation has been found to consistently reduce cortisol, a major stress hormone that affects heart health. Deep relaxation produced by meditation triggers the brain to release beneficial neurotransmitters, including oxytocin and dopamine.
Greenhouse Yoga in Hattiesburg offers meditation classes. Greenhouse co-founder and instructor, Courtney Chunn, shares hints from Nina Zolotow’s blog, Yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com.
“Thankfully, there are many ways to experience meditation and the body’s relaxation response,” Zolotow wrote.
She suggested yoga as a way to experience it, or, more simply, “creating a few minutes to pause activities and observe one’s thoughts.”
“With practice,” she wrote, “daily activities such as washing the dishes or walking the dog become a meditation and bring great benefit to the body, mind and spirit.”
The American Heart Association suggests 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise for adults for overall cardiovascular health.
Dr. Glenn Cochran, of Cardiology Associates, advises his patients to perform cardio exercise thirty minutes per day, five days a week.
The simplest positive change you can make to improve your health is to start walking. Grab a friend and head to the Longleaf Trace.
Merit Health Wellness Center offers a variety of fitness classes. Try classes such as Pound, Rock-n-Kick, and Zumba, or Cycling. Water aerobic classes include Aqua Zumba, Hydrocize, and Surf’s Up.
Think also about signing up for the Mad Dash to Mardi Gras, held February 11, 2017. This 5K run/2-mile walk/1-mile fun run benefits the Salvation Army.
The good news is unhealthy choices can be changed. This February, strengthen your heart. Pray, meditate, exercise.
Mary C. Fairley is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. She is a retired Medical Technologist. Mary is a devoted wife and mother. Her favorite role is grandmother. Mary is an avid baseball, performance dance, and soccer fan.