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Unlike other clocks, your heart won’t give you the time. No matter how often you look at echocardiograms and other high-tech pictures of your heart, you’ll never know exactly how long you’ve got left in your natural life.

Recently, I spoke with my uncle, a nurse at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, TN. He told me that each person has a set number of heartbeats in his or her lifetime, and this number is genetically predetermined at conception. This is either good news or bad news for you, depending on how many you have. When life is exhilarating, you want to live forever—or at least for a long, long time. Even if you do only get a set number of heartbeats in your lifetime, your fate isn’t completely out of your hands. If my uncle is correct, one of the best ways to ensure a longer life is to slow your heart down as often as possible. This might sound difficult—more like a practice reserved for veteran Buddhist monks, but it could be as easy as making a few simple changes to your day-to-day routine.

Regular exercise will increase your heart rate considerably. But wait, isn’t that what you’re trying to avoid? Well, yes, but your heart rate only quickens while you’re exercising. If you go to the gym and you use cardiovascular strengthening machines (such as treadmills or exercise bikes), they usually have heart rate indicators built into the handrails or handle bars. That way you can know exactly how many times per minute your heart beats. After your workout, during your slowdown, you can watch your heart fall back to its normal rate of around 70 per minute. 70 is an adult average, but your heart rate can definitely go lower than that. 50 is an ideal heart rate, difficult to obtain, yes, but definitely a goal to shoot for. The more regularly you exercise, the lower your resting heart rate will be, so if you can even manage to knock off an average of 10 beats per minute, a stronger, slower resting heart rate will easily make up the difference of a 30 minute workout. After that, your average rate of 60 beats per minute will have you sailing to a ripe old age, minus (of course) the unpredictable storms that end life early. And those are the storms, being unpredictable, that you don’t need to worry about anyway.

Eat right
Eating too many fatty foods, including red meats, can put a huge strain on your heart. If you clog your arteries, your heart will have to work harder to do the same amount of work, pumping blood through the body. Instead of eating that juicy steak, poach some salmon or grill up some poultry. Either one is healthier than red meat. Plenty of fruits and vegetables are also necessary. A diet low in fat will take a lot of work to achieve and sustain, but it will also take the workload off your heart.

If you want to go even lower than 50 beats per minute, try the ancient art of meditation. You can also slow your heart rate by engaging in other relaxation techniques more often. If you’ve had a stressful day, light some candles, put on some calm music, and just sit back with a book or place a warm wash cloth over your eyes. Also, you might be surprised how much you can slow your heart rate when you’re at work—lounging around at your desk when the boss isn’t looking, of course. My uncle told me that 54 beats per minute is the lowest he’s ever recorded his resting heart rate—he was sitting in his office being lazy when he just happened to glance at his heart rate monitor.

Like a watch, heart rate monitors can be worn around the wrist and will allow you to casually record your heart rate every so often. But don’t fret too much about how much or how fast your heart beats. It’s not the end of the world if you get a little excited.

Which leads us to our next point…

Don’t stress out too much—even about stress
In cases of extreme stress, don’t worry. Telling yourself that you’re hurting your heart won’t do you any good if the circumstances are out of your control. And besides, a little stress can be a good thing. If it weren’t a good thing, only the most over-motivated among us would ever get anything done, and our ancestors never would have picked up those spears and run willy-nilly after mammoths. If you find your heart beating out of control, just breathe and remind yourself that your heart is an amazing machine. It can bear an extraneous beat or two. Or several thousand. / Issue 99 - September 2018
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