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It’s a beautiful, sunny morning, and spring is in the air. There should be a bounce to your step as you prepare to decamp from your home, meet your friends for coffee, head into the office, and begin another wonderful day. But then it comes to you: there is still a quarantine. You turn on the news, see the rise in the death toll, and you think about the people you know who are sick, the ones you’ve known who have died, and you feel a twinge of something. Is it survivor’s guilt, or a pressing need to help in some way, or fear that maybe you have the virus and are minutes away from your first symptom, or is it a hope that you may have been one of the asymptomatic carriers who now has that most sought-after thing that money can’t buy (the ANTIBODIES)? Or is it a mishmash of all of these feelings?

Well, as this describes some aspect of everyone’s collective experience, you clearly are not alone. A sexagenarian told me this morning that he had never been under such enormous stress in his ENTIRE life. Which is saying something given over six decades of world events as a point of comparison.

So if it is fear which is principally driving the feelings of anxiety, what are we afraid of? Parsing and unpacking the mishmash can be helpful. Fear of death is a potent distracter, to say the least. Most of us (though far from all) are able to compartmentalize this fear, and by following the CDC-recommended measures, we are also taking affirmative steps to minimize this outcome, and so far these measures seem to be working to “flatten the curve”. Actions which produce results make us feel better.

I think a more prevalent though not always identified fear is the concern that things will NEVER return to normal. Considering that a person who has the flu for three days wonders if she will ever again feel whole, the COVID pandemic, with no clear end in sight, amplifies these feelings logarithmically. And as if social isolation weren’t enough, when we do venture out, there is the feeling that people on the street see us as the enemies, as the very agents of their own doom. This has a funny way of making us feel dirty, like lepers to be avoided. Normally, as New Yorkers, we are very protective of our personal space. But now, when faced with compulsory isolation, we find ourselves longing for those annoying and probing questions from people standing in line at the market, at Starbucks, and on the subway.

We even long for traffic, and if that’s not a paradigm shift, I don’t know what is. I was driving with my son yesterday, and said I couldn’t wait until I have to drive around a few times to find a parking space, instead of being faced with spot upon empty spot. Be careful what you wish for, I told myself. Of course, we are not longing for traffic or a lack of parking spaces, but rather a return to normalcy.

But if the WHEN is a driver of anxiety, so is the fear of the WHAT. The worry that there will be a new norm, and this sort of newness is unsettling. Will the movie theaters ever open again? Will my favorite restaurant still be in business? Will stores be in business, now that online-everything has settled in even more firmly than BC (before COVID)? And then comes the guilt—who are we to be thinking of movies and shops and groceries and bakeries when people are DYING? And yet to recognize that many, many people are feeling this way (remember, I talk to people all day, and in the confines of the legally-protected safe space of a doctor’s visit, I hear a LOT) helps us identify as normal the things which are driving our fears and our anxieties (and our palpitations). And in so doing, enables us to face these realities head-on, and to begin to deal with them. Or more to the point, there is nothing WRONG with you for feeling these things, even while you are concerned about the macro-environment which is destroying so many precious lives.

We are living through historic times. Infamous, to be sure, but historic nonetheless. So chronicle how you are feeling. Take notes, photos and videos. For when the worst is over, there will be the post-worst. The post-traumatic stress reactions, the smoldering anxieties, the new reality. And having notes and photos will help the healing.

Will any of us ever again have fewer than 36 rolls of toilet paper in the pantry? Whose home will be without masks, gloves, and Purell? Will we ever shake hands again without fear of death? Never mind the nervous laughter. Many of us will be feeling this way. Those of us who expect it, recognize it, legitimate it—will be the best-prepared to deal with it.

Now look out the window, even open it, take a breath, look at the trees and the sky. There is ample beauty still in this world. Enough to get us through what is to come.

Dr. Mark L. Meyer received his M.D. from the Yale University School of Medicine and his J.D. from Yale Law School. He has a private cardiology practice in Manhattan.


There is new research out that suggests that first-time marathon runners could help reduce their vascular age — the age of one’s arteries — by up to four years. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S073510971938369X?via%3Dihub) The study's purpose was to determine whether the rigorous training for a first-time marathon can reverse stiffening of the aorta due to age. The results of the study were straightforward and impressive. Even at relatively low exercise intensity, training for and completing a marathon both reduce blood pressure and aortic stiffness to approximately a 4-year reduction in vascular age. There was even increased vascular rejuvenation seen in older, slower individuals.

For the study, researchers followed 138 untrained and healthy first-time marathon runners over a six month period ahead of the 2016 and 2017 London marathons, including the two weeks post-marathon. According to the report, study participants had no significant past medical or cardiac history, and were not running for more than two hours per week at baseline. The average of the participants was 37-years old, but ages ranged from 21 to 69, and 51% of them were female.

All the participants were directed to follow the 17-week "Beginner’s Training Plan" provided by the London marathon’s web page, which consisted of approximately three runs per week that increase in difficulty each week. Researchers did allow participants use other training programs. The average running time for female marathoners was 5h40min, and for males it was 4h50min.

As with everything in our bodies, blood vessels stiffen with age. One of these blood vessels is the aorta, which is the highway that carries oxygenated blood to our muscles and organs. Decreasing elasticity in the aorta has been associated with heart disease, kidney disease, and dementia, among other problems.

Tests of the marathon runners in the study showed that their aortas had increased flexibility during the training process, so much so that they looked about four years younger after the training period. Additionally, the systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood-pressure measurements dropped an average of four and three points, respectively, for each runner. Encouragingly, older runners saw the greatest health improvements. "We were gratified to see that it's possible to improve things in older people that you think would have established irreversible changes," said study co-author Dr. Charlotte Manisty, a cardiologist at the University College London.

For those of us who don't fancy ourselves runners, it is still possible that the benefits extend to other cardiovascular exercises like cycling. Dr. Manisty pointed out that workout regimens tend to be more successful if someone is training with a goal in mind.

It's certain that for many, marathon training still sounds daunting, but finishing times for the study participants were about a half-an-hour slower than for typical marathon runners. Nevertheless, all participants showed significant vascular improvement. "This is running for health benefits for normal, real-world people running real-world marathons."

A recent NY Times article cited a number of recent long-term studies that linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments, and to fostering "exceptional longevity." (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/well/mind/optimism-health-longevity.html)


Optimism, the psychological attribute characterized as the general expectation that good things will happen, or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes, may be as important as a good diet and ample exercise when it comes to factoring into your heart's health.


Historically, many studies have indicated that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases or die prematurely. An increasing number of recent long-term studies have linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic ailments, and to fostering what they identify as "exceptional longevity," a term that refers to people who live to 85 and beyond. (https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2752100)


One research article published by Dr. Julia K. Boehm, a psychologist at Chapman University in Orange, California, in the American Heart Association Journal, found that positively-thinking people have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular-related deaths when compare to their more pessimistic counterparts. One possible explanation for this is that optimistic people may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors like exercising, eating fruits and vegetables, and avoiding smoking. (https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circresaha.117.310828)


A second research article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that "optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life span, on average," and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity”. These connections were independent of socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors such as smoking, poor diet, and alcohol use. Overall, their findings led them to believe that optimism may be an important psycho-social resource for extending life span in older adults.


The MayoClinic.org has some great guidelines and advice that help one identify both positive and negative thinking. They include:


Identifying negative thinking Not sure if your self-talk is positive or negative? Some common forms of negative self-talk include:
  1. Filtering. You magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all of the positive ones. For example, you had a great day at work. You completed your tasks ahead of time and were complimented for doing a speedy and thorough job. That evening, you focus only on your plan to do even more tasks and forget about the compliments you received.

  2. Personalizing. When something bad occurs, you automatically blame yourself. For example, you hear that an evening out with friends is canceled, and you assume that the change in plans is because no one wanted to be around you.

  3. Catastrophizing. You automatically anticipate the worst. The drive-through coffee shop gets your order wrong and you automatically think that the rest of your day will be a disaster.

  4. Polarizing. You see things only as either good or bad. There is no middle ground. You feel that you have to be perfect or you're a total failure.

Focusing on positive thinking You can learn to turn negative thinking into positive thinking. The process is simple, but it does take time and practice — you're creating a new habit, after all. Here are some ways to think and behave in a more positive and optimistic way:
  1. Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about, whether it's work, your daily commute or a relationship. You can start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.

  2. Check yourself. Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.

  3. Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. Seek humor in everyday happenings. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.

  4. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Aim to exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week. You can also break it up into 10-minute chunks of time during the day. Exercise can positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn techniques to manage stress.

  5. Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress level and make you doubt your ability to manage stress in healthy ways.

  6. Practice positive self-talk. Start by following one simple rule: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging with yourself. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about you. Think about things you're thankful for in your life.

Here are some examples of negative self-talk and how you can apply a positive thinking twist to them:

Putting Positive Thinking Into Practice:

Negative self-talk

I've never done it before.

It's too complicated.

I don't have the resources.

I'm too lazy to get this done.

There's no way it will work.

It's too radical a change.

No one bothers to communicate with me.

I'm not going to get any better at this.


vs.


Positive thinking

It's an opportunity to learn something new.

I'll tackle it from a different angle.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

I wasn't able to fit it into my schedule, but I can re-examine some priorities.

I can try to make it work.

Let's take a chance.

I'll see if I can open the channels of communication.

I'll give it another try.


(https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950)


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