The heart is an amazing organ, beating millions of times automatically, without intervention. As a result, we often take it for granted. We eat too much fatty food and don’t get enough exercise. And while the heart does quite well on its own, it doesn’t need the extra workload.
It’s no mystery that cardiovascular disease is a number one killer in the United States. And it can be an excruciating process. Congestive heart failure, in which the heart no longer pumps effectively, has a dramatic impact on quality of life. Things we take for granted, like walking to the bathroom or taking a flight of stairs, become more and more difficult to accomplish.
So it’s clear that neglecting heart health can have severe consequences, in terms of mortality and quality of life. The question is: What are we going to do about it?
Of course, there are pharmaceutical approaches that contribute to a billion-dollar industry: drugs that may lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and improve heart rhythm disorders. But those are reactive and worse, come with a list of side effects. What we really need is prevention. And as we know, there are proven ways to thwart heart troubles.
Getting into exercise
There’s no improving heart health without exercise but winter complicates the matter. Sleet, snow, icy rain and other weather can make even a short walk almost unendurable, even dangerous.
On the other hand, people can overexert themselves during the winter months. Shoveling the driveway is an extreme workout for those who are not in shape, and should be approached cautiously.
The same is true of winter sports. Skiing is great fun, but it’s also performed in low temperatures and high altitudes, which can make it risky for the heart. Take it slow, adjust to your environment, wear layers and always stay hydrated. Dehydration is much more prevalent in cold winter months than in hot summer heat – and spells real danger for heart health by spiking inflammation and hindering circulation.
But maybe you just don’t want to be outside during the winter. Certainly there are indoor alternatives. A gym membership can provide an entire range of equipment: from free weights to elliptical trainers. Some people opt to get an exercise machine for home use.
Yoga is also an excellent, heart-healthy exercise great for indoor practice. There are many effective yoga workouts available for free online that can be streamed to your television or computer.
One of the reasons people avoid exercise is the achy, burning aftermath. By design, muscles get aggravated after use — that’s how we build more muscle. However, there’s an excellent botanical extract called honokiol that has been shown to reduce post-exercise inflammation in muscles.
In a pre-clinical study published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, researchers found that honokiol protects muscles during exercise, reduces the inflammation and soreness from intense workouts, and actually speeds up recovery.
I also recommend honokiol for other critically important reasons. For example, it’s a powerful anti-cancer agent that works from numerous angles to fight cancer growth. It crosses the blood-brain barrier to offer neuro-protective benefits, as well as mood and sleep support. And it’s a powerful antioxidant, up to 1,000 times stronger than vitamin E.
What to eat
The baseline heart-healthy diet is actually quite basic – it’s more about what not to eat (such as processed foods, trans fats and pro-inflammatory ingredients like sugar and artificial sweeteners). Emphasize organic proteins, sprouted whole grains and legumes, raw nuts and seeds, and lots of vegetables and fruits. Brightly colored produce, such as blueberries, melons, pomegranates, carrots, sweet potatoes and green vegetables are top choices. The same compounds that make these foods so colorful also make them incredibly healthy – rich in unique phytonutrients, polyphenol compounds and antioxidants that work to support cardiovascular health and overall vitality. Drink plenty of water, and reduce alcohol and caffeine which can be dehydrating.
Healthy fats are also an important consideration. Try to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into meals whenever you can. Wild salmon is an excellent source, as are other fatty fish like sardines. I also recommend flax and/or chia seeds, which are rich in omega-3s and can be added to virtually any dish. Olive oil and coconut oil are healthy fats that can be used in moderation for cooking. Raw nuts are also good sources of heart-friendly fats and nutrients. Studies have shown that a handful of nuts each day can reduce mortality from all causes. Walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts are a few star players.
High quality herbal and nutritional supplements are also an excellent way to support cardiovascular function and overall vitality. One of the best supplements for heart health is an ancient Tibetan formula that promotes healthy circulation, fights oxidation from free radicals and has even been shown to help patients with peripheral artery disease. This formula is backed by over 50 years of clinical studies showing its benefits for heart, immune health and more.
Another excellent circulation formula contains the clot-busting enzyme nattokinase, medicinal mushrooms, hawthorn berry, and other heart-healthy ingredients that promote cardiovascular and circulatory health. It’s a great complement to a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
The supplement Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) is also gaining a fair amount of recognition for its heart health benefits, as the most-researched galectin-3 inhibitor. Galectin-3 is a molecule in the body which, at normal levels, plays roles in growth and repair processes. But when galectin-3 is elevated, this rogue molecule contributes to chronic inflammation, fibrosis, heart disease, cancer and other pro-inflammatory, degenerative diseases. As this field of research rapidly expands with a large body of published data, MCP is likewise gaining recognition as the best-studied galectin-3 inhibitor, capable of entering the circulation to bind and block the harmful effects of excess galectin-3. To learn more about this fast-growing field of research and the additional benefits of MCP, I recommend the new book by Karolyn Gazella, “New Twist on Health: Modified Citrus Pectin for Cancer, Heart Disease and More.”
Winter and the holidays can put an extra strain on cardiovascular health, immunity, metabolic balance, and even our moods. But if we give ourselves the gifts of less inflammation and better nutrition, we can sail into the New Year with a nourishing foundation for long-term health.