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Technology Holds Promise for Heart Health

Tips for managing existing heart-related psychological and physical conditions.

Key points

  • As technology becomes more fluid, it is natural to combine its use with traditional behavioral and physical health services to create higher degrees of resilience. 
  • Studies show that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature deaths globally, imposing extraordinary health and economic burdens worldwide.
  • In response to the global pandemic, the AHA encourages preventative strategies and the use of basic health technologies to help reduce heart-related risks.
  • Knowing how the heart functions, how to self-regulate our emotions, and what available technology is out there will help us maintain heart health during the pandemic.

This post was written by Tania Diaz, Psy.D., LMHC.

While technology has always been an integral part of modern society, its usefulness has certainly seen an exponential boom since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is scary to imagine what it would have been like for teachers, therapists, and school-age children to navigate the year-long pandemic without using tablets and smartphones as academic tools. As technology becomes more fluid in today’s culture, it is natural to combine its use with traditional behavioral and physical health services to create higher degrees of resilience during these tough times.

SewCream/Shutterstock
Source: SewCream/Shutterstock

COVID-19 restrictions have placed a huge burden on all of us, particularly for individuals with existing psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety, and/or physical conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Studies show that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of premature deaths globally, imposing extraordinary health and economic burdens worldwide. Data from the World Health Organization (2017), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019), and American Heart Association (2019) suggests that approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, accounting for one in every four deaths before the age of 70. Also, high blood pressure or hypertension is considered to be one of the leading public health concerns and a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease, among other concerns.

While there are multiple factors that contribute to such health concerns, high blood pressure appears to be a staple in most health-related illnesses. According to the American Heart Association’s newest guidelines, almost 46 percent of the adult population in the United States will be diagnosed as having high blood pressure, with the greatest impact expected among men and women under 45 (American College of Cardiology, 2017). In response to the global pandemic, the American Heart Association encourages preventative strategies designed to promote a healthy diet, exercising, appropriate medicine intake, and the use of basic health technologies to help reduce such risks.

To begin with, it is important to know how the heart functions. The heart and brain communicate with each other, constantly exchanging information in the form of rhythmic or non-rhythmic patterns. When you’re afraid or anxious, your heart rate produces a non-rhythmic pattern and sends a message to your brain, telling it, “I am afraid, anxious, or in danger.” Hence, non-rhythmic patterns are associated with negative emotional states, such as depression, anxiety, confusion, and poor concentration.

Rhythmic patterns are associated with positive emotional states, such as feelings of happiness, improved concentration, and planning, which leads to greater stress management, resilience, coherence, and optimal functioning. Therefore, the goal is to create rhythmic communication patterns through the use of positive, emotion-focused techniques. This method allows heart-brain communication by teaching you how to use your breath to increase your heart rhythm coherence, which is key to your heart’s health.

The use of a heart rate monitoring system device, which measures heart rate variability by attaching a pulse sensor to an earlobe or finger, is also very helpful. This mechanism uses photoplethysmography (PPG) technology that allows your blood pressure to be measured through your skin. PPG technology is a reliable and valid method of acquiring, quantifying, and tracking heart rate variability from a deep breathing protocol. A visual breath-pacer can also be used to promote the regularity of breathing. It involves breathing deeply without straining while simultaneously invoking a positive emotional state.

Activating a positive emotional state will decrease blood pressure, which is a precursor for many physical ailments. It is a prime example of the benefits of learning how to self-regulate our emotions.

Utilizing simple self-regulating tools makes it possible for individuals, health professionals, and organizations to improve health, well-being, performance, and productivity. The available technology has been utilized worldwide in diverse settings, from universities that help students manage test anxiety to increasing resilience and reducing stress among Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) officers. Technology continues to hold great promise for improving emotional stability and overall physical health and social well-being, particularly during challenging times.

Dr. Tania Diaz (courtesy)
Source: Dr. Tania Diaz (courtesy)

Dr. Tania Diaz is a licensed psychologist, qualified board-approved clinical supervisor for mental health counselors, and Heart-Math Certified Trainer. She currently serves as the Program Coordinator for Mental Health Counseling students at Albizu University, where she teaches graduate courses and supervises student clinicians. Dr. Diaz also owns her boutique private practice in Miami Lakes. With over 20 years of clinical experience in the mental health field, she was recently honored with membership in the Trademark Top Doctors of America in 2018.

References

Alabdulgader, A. (2012). Coherence: A novel nonpharmacological modality for lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, p. 54-61. SAGE.

American College of Cardiology. (2017, November 13). New acc/aha high blood pressure guidelines lower definition of hypertension. Retrieved from: https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/articles/2017/11/08/11/47/mon-5pm-bp-guideline-aha-2017

American Heart Association. (2019, December 1). Retrieved from: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/01/31/cardiovascular-diseases-affect-nearly-half-of-american-adults-statistics-show

Andersen, J., Papazoglou, K., Koskelainen, M., Nyman, M., Gustafsberg, H., Arnetz, B. (2015). University of Toronto Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, ²Police University College, Tampere, Finland, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA, Sage and Open Access, [April-June], p. 1-8.

Armour, J.A. (2008): Potential clinical relevance of the “little brain’ on the mammalian heart. Experiential Physiology. p. 165-76. WILEY

Armour, J.A. (1994). Peripheral autonomic neuronal interactions in cardiac regulation in neurocardiology. 1994, Oxford University Press: New York. p. 219-244.

Cameron, O.G. (2002). Visceral Sensory Neuroscience: Interception. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cantin, M. and J. Genest. (1988). The heart as an endocrine gland. Pharmacology. p. 1-22.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, December 1). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_bloodpressure.htm

Dijkstra, M.S., Soe, R., Bieleman, A., McCraty, R., Oosterveld, F., Gross, D., Reneman, M. (2018). Exploring a 1-minute paced deep-breathing measurement of heart rate variability as part of a workers’ health assessment. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-018-9422-4. SPRINGER

Freeman, L.J., Nixon, P.G., Sallabank, P., Reaveley, D. (1987). Psychological stress and silent myocardial ischemia. Am Heart J. p. 477-82.

Forouzanfar, M.H., Liu, P., Roth, G.A., Ng, M., Biryukov, S., Marczak, L., Murray, C.J., (2017). Global Burden of Hypertension and Systolic Blood Pressure of at Least 110 to 115 mm Hg, 1990-2015. Journal of the American Medical Association.

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