Coronary heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, accounting for 1 out of every 4 deaths and resulting in 600,000 deaths a year. The great news is that your body is designed to heal itself, and changing your lifestyle is an excellent start in repairing and healing your heart health. We all know that we are supposed to exercise, eat healthy, and not smoke to help protect our hearts. Today we are going to examine two critical factors to maintaining a healthy heart – nutrition and stress reduction – and more importantly, WHY they are so important.
What is Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States, accounting for 1 out of every 4 deaths and resulting in 600,000 deaths a year. It’s difficult to find someone whose life hasn’t been affected by heart disease – either personally or someone they love. My mother has Atrial Fibrillation and congestive heart failure. I say it’s because she has the biggest heart of anyone I know, it has to work extra hard!
According to the National Library of Medicine, Coronary Heart Disease is “a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart.” The first step in coronary heart disease is when the lining of your arteries become damaged. Systemic inflammation is often the primary root cause of this damage. Typically, systemic inflammation is caused by lifestyle factors such as stress, smoking, sedentary habits, and poor diet.
The great news is that your body is designed to heal itself, and changing your lifestyle is an excellent start in repairing and healing your heart health. We all know that we are supposed to exercise, eat healthy, and not smoke to help protect our hearts. Today we are going to examine two critical factors to maintaining a healthy heart – nutrition and stress reduction – and more importantly, WHY they are so important.
Why Cholesterol is Good (and Bad)
Cholesterol’s job is to heal and repair damaged cells in your arteries. Wait a second. I thought cholesterol is bad for you? Give me a minute and I’ll explain! Every cell in your body has a layer of fat, and this layer is made up of about fifty percent cholesterol. As inflammation is increased in your body, more and more cholesterol is produced by your body to heal the damaged cells. Over time, this inflammation is what causes cholesterol to build up… we call it plaque build-up. This plaque build-up will eventually lead to heart disease if it is not corrected, and it can’t be corrected until the inflammation is addressed.
Fight or Flight
Our bodies are naturally designed to handle stressful situations by what is commonly referred to as “fight or flight”. As a response to stress or anxiety, the autonomic nervous system will increase your heart rate and make your breathing become shallow, and the sympathetic nervous system will put your adrenals into action, supplying your body with additional cortisol and adrenaline.
If there is a fire in your house or you are in an accident, this kind of response is needed for survival. Under normal circumstances, once the stressor is gone, your body restores itself. Unfortunately, we live in a world of non-life threatening but equal demands and pressures from our jobs, families, finances, world events, and more. Our bodies don’t understand the difference between these kinds of stressors. Over time, the stress becomes chronic and your body is overloaded, resulting in a compromised immune system, and increased inflammation.
Knowing how all of this works, if you want to make two changes to help your heart health by reducing this inflammation, start with nutrition and stress reduction. Oh and PS – reducing inflammation is also good for reducing your risk of cancer and many other diseases too!
Heart Healthy Nutrition
Your goal is to reduce inflammation, and the food you put in your mouth is the first place to start. Eat foods that are rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, high in soluble fiber, and heart healthy fats. Antioxidants and polyphenols fight free radicals that cause inflammation. Soluble fiber improves your blood sugar and cholesterol profile, decreases inflammation, and helps to clean out your arteries and remove the plaque. Healthy fats help to decrease inflammation, and your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Eliminate foods such as processed and sugary foods, canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. In addition, you want to limit dairy fats and choose those which are organic and grass fed over ones loaded with hormones and pesticides.
Enjoy heart healthy foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, berries, green apples, walnuts, almonds, green tea, avocados, black beans, kidney beans, Brussels sprouts, turnips, oatmeal, coconut oil, olive oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, salmon, tuna, trout, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, acorn squash, spinach, oranges, cantaloupes, papaya, asparagus, tomatoes, dark chocolate (or raw cacao), and broccoli.
Meditation for Stress Relief
In recent years, meditation for stress relief has become more widely accepted as a complementary treatment to conventional medicine.
As we learned earlier, chronic inflammation plays a major role in heart disease. Research shows that practicing a mind-body therapy such as meditation, along with dietary and exercise programs, can help reduce underlying inflammatory processes.
Research backs the science that meditation has positive psychological and physiological effects on your body. There are several different types of meditation, and prayer is included as a time to be still and quiet your spirit. I personally use both – guided meditation via Headspace and also prayer, and find the two extremely complimentary.
Meditation can help to lower blood pressure, restore feelings of calm and peacefulness, reduce anxiety and stress, improve sleep, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation. Happy heart, happy mind, happy body!
Are you Inspired?
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