4 Lifestyle Shifts That Make a Big Impact for Heart Health
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. The prevalence of heart disease and other chronic lifestyle diseases continues to rise, despite the best efforts of medical and pharmaceutical advances. This is largely because traditional medical interventions tend to fail at addressing the fundamental cause(s) of cardiovascular disease to begin with. Here are 4 lifestyle shifts that make a big impact for heart health.
Although the cause of heart disease is multifactorial, the core of the problem is rooted in lifestyle behaviors. It has been uncovered that the modern, western lifestyle leads to chronic low grade inflammation, a primary underpinning in the development of cardiovascular disease.
With a functional medicine approach, you can identify and track inflammation levels in your body, and work with your practitioner to identify what may be triggering inflammation for you, especially in the context of heart disease.
If you are interested in getting started on reducing your risk for heart disease, here are four non-dietary lifestyle areas to focus on! If you want to learn how to build a heart healthy diet, read more here. (link to other heart blog).
Make Exercise a Priority
The benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart. Exercise is not only able to prevent the development of heart disease, but is an important tool for those who have cardiovascular disease, to help improve outcomes.
Making daily movement a priority will:
- Increase the heart’s efficiency in pumping oxygen rich blood to all body tissues and organs
- Improved blood pressure and reduced resting heart rate
- Increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL), your “good” cholesterol
- Aid in healthy weight
- Decrease inflammatory markers
For some, this might be a small change such as parking further away from the entrance at the grocery store or walking for 15-30 minutes after dinner instead of watching TV. Any step, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.
Focus on Managing Stress
People might not realize the negative impact stress is having on their heart. Regardless of the source of stress–work, relationships, money, etc.–, the body’s response to these chronic experiences are the same.
Poorly managed chronic stress can result in dysregulation of your stress hormone cortisol, which can result in heart-harming factors, such as increased inflammation or high blood pressure. Stress can also act as a double edge sword, because when people are under significant pressure they are more likely to engage in less-healthy activities such as smoking, excess eating, and vegging out in front of the TV instead of exercising.
Although it is impossible to eliminate stress from our lives, we can learn how to live with stress healthfully, through regular stress management practices. A few research backed methods for stress reduction and improved health include:
- Breath work
- Yoga, Ta chi, or Qi gong
- Gratitude practices
Aim for a Healthy Weight
A healthy body is more than just a number. When it comes to risk for inflammatory diseases like cardiovascular disease, we have to look beyond the number on the scale, and try to understand what makes up the number.
This can mean assessing body composition: muscle mass, body fat, bone density, and water. Breaking down this information can help identify risk, even in those who might be of normal weight, but hold a high percentage of a particular type of fat that increases the risk for disease.
There are two types of fat assessed when analyzing body composition: subcutaneous adipose tissue (fat just under the skin) and visceral adipose tissue, a highly inflammatory type of fat, that surrounds organs, and is correlated with metabolic disease heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver. Visceral fat is more likely to accumulate when an individual has inadequate muscle mass, and/or has poor metabolic health (unbalanced blood sugar, and insulin resistance). Knowing this information can help you and your practitioner make the best plan for you to reach a healthy weight.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to reaching a healthy weight however, there are certain things everyone can focus on to help them achieve (and maintain) a heart healthy weight:
- Choose whole, real food
- Cut out sugary beverages
- Take appropriate supplements
- Participate in regular exercise
Taking a whole body approach to weight loss will be most beneficial for people looking to not only improve their heart health, but their overall well being.
Sleep is one of the most overlooked behaviors when it comes to health and disease.The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute links prolonged sleep deficiency with an increased risk of heart disease, as well as a host of other health issues. Unfortunately, studies show more than 1 in 3 American adults do not get the recommended amount of sleep a night (at least 7 hours).
To help make sleep–and your heart health–a priority, focus on sticking to a regular sleep schedule like setting a regular sleep and wake time. It’s also important to get plenty of exposure to natural light during the day and toavoid artificial light (including phone and TV screens) before bed. These behaviors will support your body’s “biological clock” and support optimal production of melatonin.
The benefit of making small shifts in these lifestyle habits, is that you won’t only be influencing better health for your heart, but for your whole system. The human body is interconnected so these changes are sure to improve many aspects of your health.
If you’re ready to take the next step in improving your health we’d love to help you get a look at the bigger picture with our functional medicine approach. The Benehealth IQ Assessment provides a comprehensive review of your symptoms for root-causes.