Laughter is the best (heart) medicine

Sense of humor reduces stress, studies show

older couple laughing

Laughter can be as good for your heart as running in place

It turns out there’s a lot of truth to the old adage, laughter is the best medicine. And when it comes to heart health, those words are particularly true, according to Dr. Kim Eagle, director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. He likens the benefits of laughter to running in place: “It boosts endorphin levels, quickens the pulse rate, stimulates blood circulation, activates muscles and increases oxygen intake.”

Laughter even made the American Heart Association’s list of top 10 ways to keep your heart healthy. And studies also show that a good attitude and a sense of humor reduce stress, lower depression and help your body and mind to heal.

Laughter is a good thing, both physically and emotionally, says Dr. Eagle. “Heart disease patients who are depressed often have worse outcomes because they tend to not follow up with their doctors, skip taking their medications and don’t exercise — three very critical aspects of heart disease recovery.”

Many patients facing major cardiovascular disease are able to step back from their situation and find humor, says Dr. Eagle. “People who can laugh are generally happy and more positive — and are able to deal with their disease in a positive way.” And, people who laugh often have better physical outcomes, he adds.

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.

The effects of alcohol on your heart

Dizziness and nausea are common symptoms

You’re out with friends enjoying a few cocktails when you suddenly feel lightheaded and need to sit down. According to Cheryl Bord, a University of Michigan nurse practitioner specializing in women’s heart health, this is just one of the effects of alcohol on your heart and vascular system.

“In addition to being a depressant, alcohol dilates the blood vessels,” Bord says. “So, if you’re standing at a party or social setting, blood will pool in the vessels in your feet instead of being pumped back to the heart.”The effects of alcohol on your heart

The result can be feelings of lightheadedness, nausea and over-heating (known as pre-syncope), which are exacerbated by alcohol. Bord recommends minimizing alcohol intake and moving around to encourage blood flow to the heart, thus reducing the chances of passing out entirely.

Alcohol consumption, and particularly “binge” drinking associated with celebrations, can also lead to electrical conduction issues in the heart, a condition known as atrial fibrillation or “afib”.

“Consuming large amounts of alcohol can dramatically increase a person’s heart rate, making it feel like the heart is racing or fluttering,” Bord says. “This is a serious rhythm abnormality of the heart and should be treated immediately by a medical professional who will provide medication to help slow the heart down.”

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.

Learn how to kiss your food cravings goodbye

Trying to lose a few pounds? These tips can help

If you’re trying to lose a few extra pounds, University of Michigan dietitian Susan Ryskamp, M.S., R.D., recommends these tips to keep your food cravings in check:

stir-fried vegetables in pale bloe bowl

Selecting three healthy food items before eating comfort food can help with weight loss

• Eat slowly and select three healthy food items (vegetables, fruits, high-fiber dishes) before digging into a comfort food. Ryskamp calls this the “3 to 1” strategy.

• Don’t starve yourself or skip a meal in preparation for a dinner at your favorite restaurant. You’ll be more likely to overeat.

• Learn to recognize your hunger level, with 1 being extremely hungry and 10 being beyond full. “The goal is to stop eating when you’ve reached a level of 6,” says Ryskamp.

• Find an alternative to eating, such as exercising, connecting with friends or taking a warm bath.

• Keep a food journal to identify when you’re most likely to indulge. “This helps you become more mindful of what you’re putting into your mouth,” says Ryskamp.

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blue The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.

Do you have healthy legs?

Sitting or standing most of the day can cause vein problems

Woman seated at desk with legs crossed

Sitting at a desk for most of the day can cause vein issues

Do you spend much of your day sitting or standing? If so, you may have vein issues ranging from spider veins to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots, says Angela Haley, manager of the Michigan Livonia Vein Center. If your legs are in need of attention — either for cosmetic purposes or health-related issues — Haley advises you to see your doctor or a healthcare professional “for a comprehensive evaluation of the health of your legs.”

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Diabetes and heart disease – what’s the connection?

Today is American Diabetes Alert Day

finger_stick_diabetesIs there a connection between diabetes and heart disease? High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, are often found in patients with diabetes. However, Dr. Peter Arvan of the University of Michigan Department of Internal Medicine says that those with diabetes also often have low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL), as well as high levels of triglycerides — both of which are factors that could also lead to heart disease and stroke.

Low levels of HDL and high levels of triglycerides can be improved by weight loss, says Dr. Arvan. “In addition to diet and exercise,” he says, “diabetes patients can also experience weight loss with certain (but not all) medications that they take for the disease.”

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DVT, varicose veins and flying

I have varicose veins - is it safe for me to fly?

businessmen in airplane

People with varicose veins are at a higher risk for developing DVT or pulmonary embolism during a long flight

People with varicose veins — both men and women — are at a slightly higher risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE) during a long flight, says Dr. Thomas Wakefield, head of Vascular Surgery at the University of Michigan.

In addition to encouraging people to be aware of the link between DVT, varicose veins and flying, Dr. Wakefield offers the following tips for anyone flying or traveling long distances in a car, bus or train (4 or more hours):

  • Wear compression stockings
  • Get up and move about whenever possible
  • Periodically pump your legs up and down while seated
  • Drink lots of fluids and wear loose-fitting clothes that do not restrict blood flow
  • Try not to cross your legs
  • Take an aspirin before traveling
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages during travel

“Any and all methods of reducing your risk of DVT are important,” says Dr. Wakefield. “If you plan to travel and have concerns about your risks of getting a blood clot, be sure to talk with your doctor or a healthcare professional.”