Nature for Your Heart

The May issue of the Townsend Letter included an article titled What Causes Heart Attacks by Dr. Thomas Cowan.  Using a broad array of research Cowan explains why artery blockage is not particularly related to heart attacks and that heart attacks are more related to the function of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system.

 The parasympathetic system, among a lot of other things,  regulates heart rate and keeps it pumping along.  If your behaviors suppress your parasympathetic system and outside stress (causing something like fight or flight responses) kicks your sympathetic nervous system into high gear, all the ingredients are in place for a heart attack.  The key is to keep your  parasympathetic system properly nourished and healthy so that your sympathetic nervous system can safely serve its purpose.  

Cowan says: “ The known things that nourish our parasympathetic nervous system are

  • contact with nature,
  • loving relations,
  • trust,
  • economic security (a hallmark of indigenous peoples the world over) and
  • sex

— this is a whole new world of therapy for ailing hearts” (emphasis added).

If you were looking for another reason to get out into nature, there it is.

This information is particularly pertinent to me.   I have a pacemaker to regulate irregular heartbeats and a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP) to regulate my breathing when I sleep, due to sleep apnea.  Seems to me that both devices treat symptoms of parasympathetic nervous system issues.  I get outdoors a lot, but clearly not enough.  As the new year approaches,  I’m working on a resolution that will get me closer to nature more often.

Do you have a resolution to improve your health that involves contact with nature?  If so, tell us what it is in the comments below.


The entire Cowan article has been republished and is available at

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