Holistic Health: Mind & Spirit Approaches to Heart Health

Robert Bulgarelli, DO
Cardiologist, Lankenau Heart Group
Director of Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine – Main Line Health System

While technology and medicine offer a wide range of options for people with cardiac conditions, many in the science and medical community advocate an integrative approach, particularly the influence of the mind and the spirit, in preventing and treating heart disease.

Integrative Medicine is the alchemy of Western medicine and Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) to treat the whole person—not just the disease. CAM therapies aim to help patients not only live longer, but live better.

They can include taking vitamins and supplements or incorporating non-Western practices into your self-care, including:

  • Acupuncture has been shown to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety and help regulate blood flow—three crucial elements in living a heart-healthy life. The practice is a cornerstone modality of TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine. It originated in China and is one of the oldest medical techniques in the world, involving the placement of thin needles into specific body (or acupuncture) points.

According to the theories on which acupuncture is based, when the body’s pathways become blocked, it stops the flow of energy (or qi), and the body becomes sick. Acupuncture is believed to correct this imbalance. Western medical theory contends that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, boosting the body’s natural painkillers and increasing blood flow. Of note, when these “energy moving points” are mapped on the body surface, they overlap almost perfectly with the trigger points treated in Chiropractic medicine and the “Chapman points” as described in Osteopathic Manipulative therapy – and both Osteopathic and Chiropractic medicine are Western schools of thought, suggesting a true universality to human health and healing.

  • Body techniques like tai chi, yoga and massage can minimize stress and anxiety. These non-aerobic exercises are suitable for people of most ages and fitness levels. Tai chi is particularly well-suited for older heart patients and involves slow movements and rhythmic breathing. The ancient Chinese practice can help lower blood pressure and can increase muscle tone and flexibility.
  • Yoga is an ancient Hindu practice that involves physical posturing, “Asanas,” and concentrated breathing, and can also improve flexibility, strength, stamina and well-being. It continues to be studied extensively for multiple medical conditions.
  • Massage is thought to have both physical and emotional benefits, helping relieve anxiety and lower blood pressure along with easing general muscle aches and pains. Massage is broken down by style—Swedish Massage involves long strokes, kneading, compressing and circular movement; Oriental Massage is intended to be gentle and relaxing; Shiatsu is Japanese acupressure, applying pressure to key points on the body; and Thai Massage involves assisted stretching.
  • Consciousness Raising/Spiritual Disciplines have been used for thousands of years by man to make sense of the world, universe and his or her place in it. They include Meditation and Prayer among others and are techniques that provide relaxation, focus, centeredness, acceptance, self-esteem, self-efficacy and a general sense of well-being.

Transcendental Meditation and Mindfulness are two primary meditative practices from the East that are widely studied and accepted as vital components of a healthy lifestyle in Western medicine, taught in medical schools and used in many hospital systems.

Join Dr. Bulgarelli live on Lankenau’s Wednesday Web Chat, May 29 at 7 p.m.: Body, Mind & Spirit: Treating Your Heart Holistically. Sign up now.

Are you Heart Smart? Take the Lankenau Heart Smart Challenge.