Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women worldwide. For women in particular, heart disease results in more deaths every year than all forms of cancer combined! Cardiovascular disease affects nearly half of all US adults. In addition, over 1/3 of American adults have high blood pressure, which puts them at higher risk for developing heart disease. 1 What three steps can you take to help ensure that you do not become a statistic and wind up the victim of a heart attack or stroke?
1) Heart Friendly Food
Focused nutrition is the best place to start getting your heart health under control. Naturopathic medical schools and clinics have long utilized patient education as a means of encouraging people to eat healthier. Several accredited naturopathic medical schools feature cafeterias and high-tech teaching kitchens on campus to assist in instilling healthy eating habits and food preparation. Similarly, schools also offer intensive seminars and one-of-a-kind conferences that focus on nutrition trends and current nutrition related biomedical research.
A cornerstone of naturopathic education revolves around nutrition. Naturopathic doctors receive advanced training in nutrition to better help their patients. Some NDs even choose to specialize in this area. When it comes to eating healthy, here’s a few tips to get you started:
Fruits and Vegetables
The most important dietary change for improving and supporting cardiovascular health is to increase your intake of whole fruits and vegetables. Research has shown that heart disease risk decreases with more produce consumption. 2
Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and antioxidants which help protect the heart in multiple ways. Fiber helps with detoxification, lowers cholesterol, and decreases glycemic load (blood sugar) by slowing the absorption of sugars. In general, the more colorful the fruit or vegetable, the higher the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power. Typically, the same pigments that give plants color, act as antioxidants. Eating a rainbow – having some red, orange, yellow, green, and blue fruits and vegetables in your diet every day is a great place to start.
In the early 1900s manufacturers found they could process vegetable oil in a way that made it solid. This increased its shelf life and let it be marketed as a “healthy” replacement for butter. In the 1950s it was discovered that this solidified vegetable oil, often marketed as margarine, contained a substance called trans-fat that was formed during processing. By the 1980s and 90s it was becoming clear that these fats had serious negative health effects and increased the risk for heart disease. 3 Food labels are now required to list the amount of trans-fat in the package, and some grocery stores, cities, and even countries have decided to ban trans fats entirely. In 2018, partially hydrogenated oils, a main source of trans fats, were officially banned as an allowable food ingredient by the FDA. 4 The key to avoiding trans-fats is to avoid highly processed pre-packaged foods and always read labels carefully. By law the amount of trans-fat has to be listed. Click here to learn how to read food labels.
The standard American diet generally leads to the consumption of around double the daily amount of recommended salt. This increases the risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. 5 If you are looking to add flavor to your foods, spices and herbs like garlic, cayenne and ginger are great additions and provide health benefits too. Garlic can lower blood pressure and ginger has been shown to decrease inflammation. 6,7 By using spices, not only do you cut down on your salt intake, but you gain heart and cardiovascular benefits, and better tasting food!
One of the best tips to keep your meals on track is to plan them out:
Step 1. Clear your pantry of everything that does not move your health in a positive direction.
Step 2. Sit down and plan what meals you will cook at home.
Step 3. Restock your cupboard and refrigerator with better food and staple choices.
A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra olive oil or nuts has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes by around 30% even in those at high risk for cardiovascular disease. 8 By improving the quality of foods available, eating out less, and planning meals to cook at home, you can better control not only what’s in your meals but the portion size as well. Restaurant meals can contain 200 or more calories per meal, which over time can lead to significant weight gain.
Besides eating well, staying active is an important part of cardiovascular and mental health. The following are a few simple ways to add movement into your day.
Monitor Your Movement
Using a wearable fitness tracker, pedometer, or other activity tracking device can help you record your steps during the day. This will help keep tabs on how active you are. Try walking in place at your desk, parking at the end of the lot so you have to walk farther, and taking the stairs whenever possible. All of these things will help you move and exercise throughout the day. Set goals and challenge yourself to reach them daily. Make sure to take movement breaks throughout the day if your work is sedentary.
Many people create a plan to work out every day for an hour. This can be unrealistic and discourage you if you don’t hit your goal, particularly in the early stages. Instead, start with manageable chunks for you, like 20-30 minutes per day, three times a week. Another idea is fitting in simple body weight exercises like push-ups and squats during work breaks.
Get Your Heart Pumping
Exercise is great, but if you really want to get your heart healthy, you have to make it work. It is a muscle after all. This means taking part in aerobic exercise designed to raise your heart rate such as running/jogging, swimming, or riding a bike. Talk to your healthcare provider about what your heart rate goal should be to help improve your heart health. Click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada.
3) Stress Reduction
Stress is a part of everyday life, but it can also have detrimental impacts on your health, particularly the cardiovascular system. Stress can increase blood pressure and inflammation, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke. Naturopathic medicine looks at health holistically, integrating stress management techniques like meditation and acupuncture. There are even herbs that can help the body have a more productive stress response. Traditional naturopathic therapies such as hydrotherapy can help boost the immune system and promote relaxation. Here are a few techniques that you can start today to help with stress.
Consider keeping a journal to help you cope with stress. Writing about the things that are causing emotional upset and how you are feeling has been shown to reduce stress and improve health outcomes for a number of conditions. 9 The general recommendation is to give yourself 15 minutes to write your innermost thoughts and feelings down on paper. The only caveat is that if you’ve just gotten over a traumatic event then immediately writing about it can possibly make things worse. If you’ve experienced a major trauma, make sure you talk to a healthcare provider if you’re going to start journaling.
At first, practicing gratitude can sound really cheesy. “You mean I should be thankful for my chair, my shoes, and my dinner plate?” Yes! We usually focus on what we lack. Gratitude short circuits that process and helps us be thankful for what we have. Clinical trials support how effective it can be to reduce stress and help with conditions like anxiety and depression. 10 Practicing gratitude can be as easy as writing down three things that you are grateful for before bed. It might be the worst day ever, but you probably have a bed to sleep in, a pillow, four walls and a roof over your head. Try it for a week and you’ll start to notice your stress level decrease and more joy come into your life. Click here for additional information on the health benefits of gratitude, and what you can do to start practicing it!
Many people are irritable and stressed out due to simple things like lack of sleep. Eating well and exercising can help provide a deeper and more restful sleep. Giving yourself at least an hour before bed without looking at a screen and minimizing light in your room at night (this includes light from things like a digital clock) can also improve sleep quality. The blue light from electronic devices alters the way melatonin, the main hormone of sleep, is produced. Finding a way to naturally get the sleep you need every night is a good way to help reduce your stress levels.
Leading a healthy and active lifestyle by eating well, exercising, and using regular stress management exercises can help keep your heart healthy. In naturopathic medical school, students become experts in helping their future patients meet these goals. If you need more guidance on heart health tips seek out care from a clinic at one of the accredited naturopathic medical schools, or click here to find an ND near you in the US and Canada.
Thank you to zerocater.com for sharing this graphic.