With February being American Heart Month, it's a great time to review some of the facts, myths, and updates on heart health.
Here's what I remember learning growing up about heart health. (psst...these are NOT the secrets)
• Cardio exercise is important
Is it really? Does this actually help our cardiovascular system?
Let's break it down.
Cardio exercise increases the body's need for oxygen which means there's an increased need for blood circulation. The heart pumps faster to get the blood/oxygen moving. Breathing increases.
So, if the heart has to work harder, it has to get stronger. However, what if the blood vessels are in poor shape? Like they have lost their elasticity or they are blocked or they are kinked (like when you're in a sitting position and you have that nice bend at the hips)? Those things make it harder for the blood to flow smoothly through the vessels, which puts even more strain on the heart. So cardio exercise alone is not going to be great without supporting the underlying health of the entire body.
• High cholesterol is the main bad guy in heart disease
Okay. No. Just no.
Cholesterol measures tell you how much cholesterol you have circulating your blood. The reason we have cholesterol is for healthy hormone levels, for vitamin D production, for healthy digestion, for serotonin production (hello good mood and sleep!), and it helps to repair damaged arteries.
Those sound like good things right? Except those little cholesterol guys that go to repair damaged artery cells do so by putting a little patch on the arteries (LDL). As the cells heal, the HDL helps to smooth and remove the LDL to leave a nice smooth surface - albeit a scarred one. Unfortunately, if there's constant toxin load and damage, the patches build up and can block blood flow through the arteries. Hence where cholesterol gets a bad reputation as being the cause of heart attacks. Even though it's just trying to save the body from damage.
So, basically, cholesterol is a good guy. Toxins are the bad guys. Getting rid of cholesterol stops a lot of good body processes and takes away the body's ability to repair damaged blood vessels. Getting rid of toxins (nutritional, environmental, mental) is the real "cure" that gets to the root of the issue.
• Stress causes heart disease
Yes. Stress is a killer. And we don't just have to live with it. We definitely need to work on lowering our stress levels because it is the cause of so many issues as it heats up the body to create inflammation. And constant inflammation is absolutely a whole body villain. More on that another time.
• The biggest no-no when it comes to nutrition and heart health is eating too much fat.
This claim one has been negated repeatedly. We know that fat is necessary, like cholesterol, to many vital body functions. Of course, we should be eating healthy fats in moderation. Things like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and plant-based oils like olive oil and coconut oil.
The real big no-no to heart health is processed sugar. Sugar is a toxic acid that wreaks havoc on the body. It also stickifies the blood (technical term) which makes it even more difficult to pass through the blood vessels smoothly.
And sugar plus dehydration??? Now you really have a very sludgy mess.
Have you ever seen maple syrup being made? Several years ago we lived on some land where there were a few big maples, so we tapped them to make maple syrup.
The process is fairly simple. When the sap starts flowing after having been stored up for the winter, it's quite sweet. However, it is also mostly water. So you collect gallons and gallons of sap to boil down to make just a little bit of syrup. About 40 gallons of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup.
Once most of the water is boiled out, you have a much thicker sugary liquid. Great for syrup! Not great for blood.
If the blood is full of sticky, sugary particles, plus not enough water, it's going to be much thicker and less able to flow through the body. And without good blood flow, the heart must work harder to pump the same amount of nutrients and oxygen through the body resulting in not a stronger heart, but a worn out heart. Plus the blood tends to clump and stick to the arteries. Especially if you've got a lot of "patches" on the blood vessels. Not good.
So, instead of eating less fat to keep the blood flowing well, drink pure water and eat zero (yes, I said ZERO. As in nil, nada, none, zilch!) processed sugar. How many people would rather keep eating sugar and try a bunch of cholesterol meds instead??? If pharmaceutical sales are any indication, I'd say MOST people.
But since you aren't "most people" and actually want to heal instead of covering one problem by creating another one, I'll give you some seriously good, and little known, ways to keep your heart in tip top shape. That can actually REVERSE cardiovascular disease as well. (Did you know that a true remedy is one that not only prevents but reverses illness/disease?)
So here are a few secrets for heart health (that have nothing to do with "cardio" exercise):
1. Keep your hands, feet, arms, and legs warm. If the extremities are cold, the blood vessels are constricted which makes it harder for the blood to flow. It can also cause an overheating in the trunk, where the heart is. That's stressful on the heart to not only have to pump harder but get overheated. The easiest fix for this is to dress in even layers or with more layers of clothing on the parts farthest away from your body.
2. Steer clear of environmental toxins. Remember those holes needing patching in the blood vessels? Well environmental toxins like chemicals (in makeup, cleaning products, disinfectants, soaps, lotions, etc.), pollution (indoor and outdoor), mold (it's way more common than you think), and even plastics in clothing (aka polyester), and medications (prescription and non-prescription) are some of the culprits. The more you can avoid them, the less damage your body will need to repair.
3. Keep your gut healthy. Because to pump well, your heart has to have a nice balance of nutrients. If your gut isn't working well, it can't filter out those nutrients to pass along to the body. So take excellent care of your gut to avoid so many health issues.
4. Decrease stress. This one is worth mentioning again. It's okay to not do everything. If there are things you can delegate, do it. If you are stressed financially, make a plan. If there's no hope in sight, get help. Pray.
Forgive those who have wronged you. (Read my article about how Cardiovascular Health Depends on Forgiveness). The more you can release your burdens, the less you heart will have to carry.
5. Rest. Make sure you are getting enough nightly sleep and weekly rest. We weren't designed to work all the time. Our hearts (along with the rest of our organs) need time to recharge overnight. Give yourself permission to have true rest and take some time to take care of you.
And really, it's that simple. Heart health has much more to do with taking care of you as a whole person and less to do with focusing on the heart itself. Of course there are other things to do that will bring optimal health to your heart (and you), but that really depends on what you personally need.
Want more personalized ideas for YOUR life and health? Please send me a message to talk more about your heart and how you can keep it healthy and/or reverse disease through simple habits that you can incorporate into your lifestyle. Better yet, they don't require medications (or even long-term supplements), surgery, or ongoing visits to the doctor.
Because you are worth it!