On Valentine’s Day, my heart will go on

Andrew May, Partner, KPMG Performance Clinic
Andrew May, Partner, KPMG Performance Clinic

You could be forgiven for thinking (especially if you’re a heart broken sceptic) that Valentines’ Day is purely a marketing activity. But rather than just focusing on cupid and his little bow, the cards, flowers and chocolates let’s take a broader look at that beautiful four chambered organ inside your chest called the heart.

The heart is an amazing organ, and while its main role is to pump blood, it is also seen as the source of love, emotions and even personality traits with stories of heart transplant patients adopting passions and hobbies of the donor. Structurally our hearts are all the same, but their ability to withstand life’s events is dependent upon how well you care for yours. So this Valentine’s Day, instead of focusing on red roses, champagne, and too many chocolates – think about loving your heart for the long-term. Here are three recipes for a healthy heart:

Make your heart more resilient
In ancient times our bodies would experience stress when we’d run from a tiger, triggering our fight or flight response. In the new world of work we experience constant demands on our system throughout the day and we’re not allowed to fight, so instead we bathe our cells in a toxic bath of stress hormones. The new working world demands an increase in capacity, but without the subsequent thought or time allocated for recovery. This constant stress elevates heart rates, blood pressure and an increase in heart disease. Creating down time in your day is essential to switch your body and brain from stressed out fight-or-flight to chilled out rest-and-recover. I personally find yoga, deep breathing, and a mindfulness technique called BodyScan particularly useful for calming myself or switching off after a busy day. All you need is a few minutes on the train, at your desk or while waiting for the kettle to boil to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and reset into a better head and heart space.

Make your heart more open
Opportunities are all around us, but we become so focused on one thing (like our incessant connection to our digital devices) that we fail to see them. I see this all the time with many successful executives who put all their energy and focus into their career, but neglect their personal passions. They end up feeing discontented, disconnected and disengaged. Start by mapping out a clear vision of what a full and happy and connected life looks like (making a vision board helps) then take action. It could be as simple as going to the park with your kids, taking an art class to indulge your creative side, or having regular date nights with your partner. Why not begin on Valentine’s Day?

Make your heart bigger
Regular exercise makes your heart stronger, bigger and more efficient. For a machine that gets no rest in your lifetime, this is essential. I particularly love high intensity interval training (HIIT) because it’s time efficient and leads to quicker changes in VO2max – a measure of physical fitness that also correlates with life expectancy. So whether you prefer cycling, swimming, running, or even dancing, getting your heart pumping at least 3 times a week for 40 to 45 minutes will give you massive benefits towards long-term health.

This Sunday, as you see the big red heart balloons, think about the one in your chest and how you can inflate its capacity with a focus on health, fitness, and wellbeing.

This Valentine’s Day start by looking after your own heart.

 

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