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It is fitting to round out National Heart Month in recognition of the small but mighty powerhouse that is the human heart. It is the core of our physical and emotional well-being. There’s a reason why it is known as the hardest working muscle in the human body. It is a veritable workhorse.

“The greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is taking deliberate, healthful care of ourselves” – Dr. Dean Ornish

This 10 ounce muscle pumps blood and maintains circulation until our last breath. The heart actually starts beating in the unborn fetus before the brain has formed. It works without interruption and beats about one hundred thousand times per day. It pumps two gallons of blood per minute, over one hundred gallons per hour, through a vascular system about 60,000 miles in length (over 2 times the circumference of the earth). No wonder that we have a holiday specifically dedicated to it.

Valentine’s Day comes and goes, but the message needs to stay with us all year long: The heart and its tender contents are worth celebrating! We can be grateful to Dr. Dean Ornish for reminding us that the heart is also worth protecting. In fact, practicing a daily, heart healthy lifestyle is the gift that keeps on giving. It simultaneously teaches us how to love and care for ourselves, while also enabling us to live better and longer with those we love.

When scanning the research for his book, Love & Survival, Dr. Ornish was shocked to discover that even though the heart has been the symbol of love, compassion, emotions and spirituality for thousands of years, he couldn’t find a link between heart health and love in any of the studies.

He wrote:

If you were to look up “stress” in the index of summaries of one of these scientific presentations—at the annual scientific session of the American Heart Association or the American College of Cardiology, for example—you would find “stress echocardiography,” “exercise stress testing,” “stress Doppler testing,” but very little about emotional stress or any other psychological factors, and nothing at all on the spiritual dimensions of the heart—even though the heart has been the symbol of love, compassion, emotions, and spirituality for thousands of years.  “Love” is not even in the index.  You might think that “love” would be in the domain of psychologists, yet a review of the Annual Review of Psychology (twenty-three volumes!) found not a single reference to love.[i]  

When I searched the National Library of Medicine database from 1966-1997, I found 6,059,652 research publications on “human,” 277,175 on “heart,” 2,205 on “love,” but only four articles on love and heart disease.  Of these four articles, one was on the inventor of a new technology in pediatric cardiology and his “love both of good times and difficult problems” and one was a Japanese article on how heart transplants should be offered “out of love for mankind.”  Only two of over nine million articles in the National Library of Medicine Database described the relationship of love to heart disease.

As recently as May 1997, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed all of the known risk factors for coronary heart disease.[ii]  While listing esoteric factors such as apolipoprotein E isoforms, cholesteryl ester transfer protein, and lecithin-cholesterol acyl transferase, it did not even mention emotional stress or other psychosocial factors, much less spiritual ones. 

The choice to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle with his scientifically proven Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program is what Dr. Ornish refers to in his book, The Spectrum, as “Love made manifest.” He explains that the greatest gift we can give to our loved ones is taking deliberate, healthful care of ourselves. Our daily, conscious choices in diet and lifestyle can be viewed as challenging, but it is much more meaningful and therefore sustainable to reframe those choices as acts of love.

To illustrate this point, Dr. Ornish wrote, “I’m not one of those people who loves exercise. It takes effort for me to motivate myself to work out on a regular basis. What motivates me to do so is love: I want to live a long, healthy, and happy life with my wife, Anne; I want to be around to watch my children grow up; I want to see them graduate and fall in love and dance at their weddings; I want to remain healthy enough to play vigorously with them.”  

That sounds like a year round, beautiful Valentine to me.

We can show our loved ones how much they mean to us every day; not just on Valentine’s Day or during Heart Health Month. Following Dr. Ornish’s lead, we can continue to nurture and protect our mighty hearts in order to feel and share the most powerful, life-giving force in the universe: the ability to love and be loved.

What motivates you to make healthy lifestyle choices day after day, and week after week?



Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

Hearts linked, together we heal…

Better Health Begins With You...

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