On Babe Ruth, Hobbies and the Heart


As we get set to leave Baltimore for Philadelphia, I can’t help but reminisce of the great friendships and memories made in “Charm City”.   As a baseball enthusiast, moving to Baltimore in the mid-80s brought me an even greater appreciation of GH (Babe) Ruth, the hometown hero and legendary “Sultan of Swat”.  Over the past several decades, my hobby of collecting baseball memorabilia rose to a new depth as I pursued Ruth-related collectibles.  Of the 7 baseball cards illustrated, 5 are of the Bambino himself (from the 1933 Goudey and 1948 Leaf set), 1 is of his teammate, Lou Gehrig (1934 Goudey) and on the upper right, is the 1909 T-206 Ty Cobb (green background) acquired from the estate of Babe Ruth’s cousin shortly after my move to Baltimore from Cincinnati.   

It is no surprise that we commonly refer to Baltimore as “Small”-timore because there are so many interconnections…in the case of Babe Ruth, I pass by his birth home nearly every day as the University of Maryland Hospital is just a block away.  Ironically and many decades earlier, my wife’s family (generations of native Baltimoreans) at one time owned the pub where Babe Ruth’s father was employed (currently the centerfield area of Camden Yards).  Even our 13-year-old cockapoo is aptly named “George Herman”!

Listed below are reasons to engage in a hobby that is appealing to you.

  1. Hobbies have a positive impact on the heart by improving psychological health.  Studies have shown that psychological health is an important component of wellness/well-being for patients at risk of heart disease (CVD).
  2. A recent study in spouses who were caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s disease found that participation in pleasant leisure activities was associated with improvement in cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and emotional stress.
  3. Engagement in a variety of art forms (2 hours each week) such as the performing arts, visual arts and literature is associated with better emotional and heart health (improved heart rate variability).
  4. A study conducted in Pittsburgh found that engaging in enjoyable activities was associated with lower blood pressure, stress hormone (cortisol) levels, waist circumference, and body mass index as well as a better overall perception of physical function.
  5. A study of 4,200 Swedes aged 60 and over found that gardening and do-it-yourself projects to be associated with a 25-30% lower risk of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease over a 12 year follow-up period.
  6. Enjoyment of a hobby is associated with an 8-fold lower risk of future cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke due to improvement in vascular health.
  7. A newly published study conducted in Japan over a 16-year follow-up period found that compared to those that have no hobbies, engaging in 1 or multiple hobbies was associated with a 10-20% lower risk of cardiovascular events.
  8. Engagement in activities such as jigsaw and crossword puzzles reduce stress hormone (cortisol) levels; a recent study found that elevated levels of urinary cortisol predates the development of hypertension.

Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.  Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1

Natural Foods to Combat Depression During the Holiday Season

chocolate, Coffee, depression, dietary fat, fish consumption, Gut Health, gut microbes, heart disease prevention, mental illness, Nutrition, omega 3's, stress

While the holiday season is jovial and celebratory for the majority of Americans, it can also be a source of despondency and despair for others. This is especially true for those afflicted with seasonal affective disorder or have great fear and anxiety leading to self-imposed travel restrictions in the midst of the COVID pandemic.

Fortunately, as of this writing, the most recent evidence suggests that if you’ve been vaccinated and “boosted”, the latter should be less of an overriding concern.

Nevertheless, as compared to the pre-COVID pandemic era, levels of depression and anxiety have also risen to unforseen heights.  With the Holiday Season upon us, presented below is a heart healthy selection of foods/drinks proven to enhance mood and combat/limit depression and make your holiday season a more enjoyable one.

  1. Mushrooms: A new study of nearly 25,000 men and women found that compared to non-consumers, those who ate mushrooms on a regular basis were less likely to experience signs of depression.  Mushrooms are an excellent source of ergothioneine (ERGO), an amino acid with antioxidant properties shown (in rodent studies) to alleviate symptoms of depression.  Other good food sources of ERGO are beans (black, kidney) and oat bran.
  2. Cranberries:  Cranberries are also rich in antioxidants and in the brain protective and anti-inflammatory compound ursolic acid.  Ursolic acid not only reduces growth of certain tumors but has also been shown to improve memory and reduce mood disorders, especially anxiety and depression. Try a handful of cranberries or 4 ounces of pure cranberry juice each day to reap the benefits.
  3. Prebiotics: Non-digestible carbohydrate foods (prebiotics) such as garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions, promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria to reduce neuroinflammation and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  4. Dark chocolate: A study of ~13,600 adults found that compared to non-consumers, daily consumption of dark chocolate (3.5 ounces) was associated with ~60% lower risk of depression.
  5. Coffee: Compared to minimal or no consumption, coffee drinkers have a 25% lower risk of depression. The most favorable results were observed with an average amount of 13.5 ounces consumed daily.
  6. Mediterranean Style Diet: A Mediterranean style diet (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish) is associated with improved mental health in men and women with depression.
  7. Kiwi: A recent study found that consuming a kiwifruit daily was associated with improved mood and overall well-being that was attributable to more than the high Vitamin C content.
  8. Bivalves: Mussels, oysters, clams and scallops are good/excellent sources of selenium associated with reduced depression and improved mood.
  9. Bananas: Bananas are an excellent source of Vitamin B6 with anti-anxiety, antidepressant properties. A banana a day may keep the psychiatrist away!
  10. Pumpkin Seeds: Try a small handful of pumpkin seeds daily. The rich content of tryptophan, zinc and magnesium may reduce anxiety and combat depression.

Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.  Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1