Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but it is preventable and controllable. Many lifestyle-related factors are known to have a direct impact on cardiovascular health. To celebrate American Heart Month this February, take the following steps which are an important foundation to an integrative approach to heart health.
1) Eat a diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats such as from nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Avoid processed and pre-packaged foods and minimize dining out. Keep your blood sugar levels stable by avoiding added sugars in your foods and beverages.
2) Meditate regularly. Meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure and alleviate the physical effects of the stress response. More recent meditation studies have shown alterations in gene regulation towards a healthier state. Learn more about meditation here.
3) Be physically active. Even if you do not have time to do a complete exercise routine, find ways in your daily life to be more active by walking more, driving less, taking the stairs, etc. Even small bursts of exercise can be beneficial.
4) Deal with your emotions. Emotional distress can cause a stress response in the body leading to increases in blood pressure and inflammation. Certain tendencies such as anger and hostility have been related to elevated risks of heart disease. Find support from a counselor, friend, or even a group. If you are having difficulty letting go of stored emotional pain, consider attending the Chopra Center’s Healing the Heart workshop.
5) Disconnect to connect. The constant pull of smartphones, computers, and media can keep stress levels rising. Make sure to have some free time and consider connecting to nature. Look at the night sky, take a walk among a greenbelt or body of water, feel the warmth of the sun on your body, gaze into the eyes of a friend or loved one.
6) Get a good night’s rest. Lack of sleep may be related to elevations in blood pressure, stress hormones, and overweight. Set up a relaxing routine to help set the stage for sleep and aim to be in bed by 10:30. Click here for more sleeping tips.
7) If you smoke, take the steps needed to quit for good. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Dr. Valencia Porter is the Chopra Center's Integrative Medicine Director and a Vedic Master. Board-certified in both General Preventive Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine, she has an integrative approach that incorporates many areas of health and healing, including Ayurveda, medical acupuncture, biofield (energy) therapies, and functional medicine.
As a medical student at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, she began to explore complementary and alternative medicine. After training in pediatrics and child neurology, she completed a residency in Preventive Medicine at U.C. San Diego as well as a master's degree in public health focusing on Environmental Health at San Diego State University. Dr. Porter also completed a fellowship as a Bravewell Collaborative scholar at the renowned Program for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. Before coming to the Chopra Center, Dr. Porter served as a physician and researcher at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego.