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Somebody to Lean On: How to have a happier heart

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What can we do to enrich our health and well being? Diet and exercise we all know are ingredients, but did you know that equally important elements are our behavior and attitudes?

While the science linking our psychology with our heart health is new, the awareness of this is almost 400 years old. In 1628, the English physician, William Harvey wrote, "Every affection of the mind that is attended with either pain or pleasure, hope or fear is the cause of an agitation whose influence extends to the heart."

He was on to something. Studies have consistently found correlations between hostility and cardiac problems. The anger may involve yelling at another driver or holding harsh feelings toward others, and it doesn't seem to matter if the anger is expressed or held in. Surprisingly, there is a paper-and-pencil test of hostility that has been found to predict future cardiac risk. It can be found in the book Anger Kills, by the cardiologist Redford Williams, MD.

Another cardiac risk factor is social isolation — defined as feeling there is no one to confide in, no one who cares.

So what behaviors can help our hearts? Having at least one person to share one's feelings and challenges with has been demonstrated to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and fatalities.

The wisdom of having social support is as ancient as the Bible. "A faithful friend is the medicine of life" (Ecclesiastes 6:16) and as modern as Oprah Winfrey, who has said "Everybody who gets through the tough times gets through the tough times because there is somebody standing in the gap to close it for you."

Robert Maurer is a Spokane psychologist and author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life.