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Enriching Friendships for a Healthy Heart

Enriching Friendships for a Healthy Heart

Al Waller: It’s never too soon (or too late) to begin caring for your heart. Embracing a healthy lifestyle at any age can keep your heart healthy, prevent heart disease, and lower your heart attack or stroke risk. There are some powerful lifestyle factors that are often encouraged when trying to keep your heart healthy. However, a component we often overlook when thinking of heart health is the influence our relationships can have on this vital organ.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host Al Waller, and today we’re joined by Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, and she’s here to discuss the impact of our relationships on our heart health.

Before we get started, I want to remind our listeners that we would love to hear from you and get to know what topics you’d like to hear about. Please drop us a line at [email protected].

It’s good to have you here today, Mihaela.

Mihaela Vincze: It’s good to be back, Al.

Al Waller: So, before we dive into today’s episode, I just wanted to ask… What are the signs of a healthy heart?

Mihaela Vincze: That’s a great question, as when I did my research, I was actually surprised to find that this was a bit tricky to uncover. I often found headlines such as “signs of heart disease” or “ways to maintain a healthy heart” but not so much on the actual signs that your heart is healthy—which is pretty important, I think.

Al Waller: Yes, it is important. What are the signs of a healthy heart?

Mihaela Vincze: There are a few indicators of a healthy heart such as:

  • Breathing. With a healthy heart, you're able to perform moderate-intensity physical activity without any pain or difficulty breathing—which can indicate that your cardiovascular system can supply your body with the oxygen it needs.
  • Energy levels. If everyday activities always leave you tired, you may have an issue with your heart (e.g., your heart may not be pumping enough blood to meet your body’s needs).
  • Heart rate. Most adults' normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Ask your health-care professional what your resting heart rate should be, as this can be a good indicator of a healthy heart.

With these being highlighted, creating heart-healthy habits may be one of the best investments you can make for your future.

Al Waller: Yes, taking care of our hearts is very important, especially as we get older. Now, we discussed some heart-healthy habits in the episode 4 Heart-Healthy Habits last year—where we covered diet, exercise, staying at a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking as factors that reduced the risk for heart disease and promoted a healthy heart. Are there any other influences that can impact our heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, that's a great question because we don't often think of other impacts on our hearts. For instance, there are risks associated with lacking friendships and social support. According to the American Heart Association, loneliness can lead to poorer life expectancy when living with heart disease. Further, loneliness and social isolation can lead to inflammation, which can lead to heart disease, according to a review published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.

Al Waller: I wasn’t aware that lacking friendships and social support can affect our heart health. What are the benefits of friendships and social support on our heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: Social support involves a network of people you can turn to in times of need. They can also boost happiness, belonging, a sense of purpose. However, a 2022 study found that social support strengthens resilience in stressful situations. This is important because chronic stress can wreak havoc on your heart health. Further, a study published in PLOS ONE also shows an association between receiving a hug and relieving negative emotions from stress.

That’s not all, another 2019 study showed that having a circle of strong friendships is a predictor of wellness states, which are the experienced states of stress, positive attitude, happiness, and health.

Al Waller: It’s wonderful that our relationships can have such a profound and beneficial effect on our health, aside from just offering comfort and fun. Now, I can’t help but wonder what the lack of social relationships can do to our health. What have you found regarding social isolation?

Mihaela Vincze: A lot, and it’s not good news. For instance, the health risks of prolonged isolation can be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a meta-analytic review published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. Further, those with heart disease who experienced loneliness, social isolation, and were living alone were found to have a shortened life expectancy according to a systematic review in the Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

Al Waller: Well then, now that we know loneliness and social isolation play a part in heart health, how else can relationships impact our heart health?

Mihaela Vincze: Our relationships can severely impact our hearts-- there is a condition called "broken heart syndrome", also known as “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” which can cause sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, and may cause you to believe you’re having a heart attack. Distressing emotions and stressful situations often bring on this heart condition. Broken heart syndrome is more common in women than in men, and it usually occurs in those older than 50, as well as those who have had anxiety or depression, according to Mayo Clinic.

Al Waller: That's not good but I must admit, it's empowering to think of our relationships' role on our heart health—makes me want to prioritize them more. Now, for those wondering, what do you recommend for people who are curious about expanding their social support system?

Mihaela Vincze: It may be helpful to assess your social support system. You can do this by asking yourself questions such as:

  • Do you feel like you can’t comfortably turn to your social support system in times of need?
  • Would you benefit from deepening your current relationships?
  • Could you use some new ways to meet people?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, it may be beneficial to forge time to build relationships with others.

Al Waller: Those questions are a good starting point. Thank you, Mihaela, for giving us insights into our relationships' impact on heart health. Thanks again for joining us today.

If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss an episode of ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth.

And in case you missed them, check out our previous episodes on newly passed retirement legislation and psychological first aid. Also, in the coming weeks, we will discuss how well-prepared US workers are for retirement and heart health.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.