February isn’t just for Valentine’s Day and white sales; the shortest month is filled with holidays, observances, fun little footnotes, and every four years, an extra day! It’s also American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness of heart healthy lifestyles and practices, and while we’ve focused on the effects of stress and diet on heart health, studies show that there’s another very important concept that helps hearts stay healthy: thankfulness. Additionally, we can train our brains to help increase this positive impact by turning negative thought processes around and focusing on positive reactions.
The heart/mind connection has been the subject of recent studies showing that the connection goes both ways, meaning that a healthy heart also helps lower the risk of dementia and memory loss. Heart disease and dementia share several risk factors, so protecting your heart also helps to protect your brain health. Angelos Halaris, MD, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine notes that roughly half of the people battling heart disease develop depression, while people with depression are two to three times more likely to develop heart disease, noting that the connection can be a difficult cycle to break. “People know that their livelihood and life is in danger, and that becomes a major stress factor in the life of that individual, so we start going around and around in circles,” he says.
We know that thankfulness is good for us, but how do we cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”? The heart/mind connection is useful here as well: like many things, gratitude is a learned behavior and we can actually train ourselves to be thankful:
- Make it a habit
Say “thank you” regularly. Seems easy enough, but it’s something that’s often forgotten. From the person who hands you your morning coffee to the spouse who loads the dishwasher to the co-worker who fixes the jammed printer, opportunities abound to show gratitude. Taking the time to pen (or type an email) thank you note also reinforces gratitude!
- Be “in the moment”
When we focus on what is happening right now instead of worrying about what should happen next, we are more able to be grateful for the little things. Whether you’re exercising, eating a great meal, or enjoying a conversation, focus on being completely present in order to fully appreciate each experience.
- Keep track
Create a “thankfulness journal”. Keeping a written reminder of what we’re thankful for not only serves as a great reminder to be positive, it reinforces that positivity by cementing those memories. And of course, there are journal applications you can download to your phone as reminders to keep a written record!
At Senior Lifestyle, we strive to create a culture of gratitude, celebrating both large-scale successes and everyday triumphs with residents, team members and families in our communities. To learn more about a Senior Lifestyle community in your area, please visit our website at www.seniorlifestyle.com.