According to the most recent statisticsÂ offered by the American Heart Association, one in three American adults has one or more types of cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, angina, heart attack history, heart failure and/or stroke). Over half of these individuals are under the age of 60. I personally find this information shocking and saddening. Heart disease is largely a disease of lifestyle choice – choices we make on a day-to-day basis culminating over time. The amount of suffering for these individuals and those who care about them cannot be measured.
Our culture has not been set up to combat this disease effectively. Reliance upon extreme measures (surgery and drugs) remain the norm and well-supported by current health plans, while remedies which have been proven to be the most effective (diet and exercise changes) remain ignored and unsupported in our culture.
There has been a call to step forward and begin to take responsibility as a nation on many levels. Our health is just one area which can make a profound difference and have a powerful ripple effect nation-wide – stemming from our personal sphere of family, friends and co-workers to a more national level of insurance policies, health care plans, and the medical and food industries.
Begin with small, powerful changes to improve your heart health. The shift that can happen for you is beyond transformational. It requires simple steps, but it can be difficult to implement within the context of one’s day-to-day life. This is where support from your health providers, family members, a personal trainer and various communities becomes essential. As a friend of mine says, “Together, we can do better.”
* Move a little bit every day: Park further away, take an after dinner stroll for 10 minutes, take the stairs instead of the elevator, enlist the help of a personal trainer. 30 minutes a day or more. It doesn’t have to be all at once! Alternatively,use a pedometer to keep track of how many steps you take in a day – aim for 10,000!
* Eat Your Greens! Green foods are powerful heart protectors. They are full of fiber, antioxidants and are low in calories, helping to shed excess weight. I have written much about greens and different ways to get them into one’s daily diet. A great book to get started is Greens, Glorious Greens.
* Reduce Meat Consumption: The frequency of and quality of our animal food consumption
in this country is not supportive for the health for our bodies or the planet. If you have cardiovascular disease, multiple sources of research point to the benefit or reducing or eliminating consumption of beef, pork, and even chicken from your diet. Traditional cultures with low risk of disease use animal foods as a condiment and flavoring rather than a main course. Try eating a vegetarian diet 50% of the time (or more) and reserving meat for special occasions. There are many ways to do this that can be satisfying, nutritionally-sound, and even decadent! The work of T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, and John McDougall may be of interest to you. Also, take a vegetarian cooking class to learn more about how lovely meat-free eating can be!
* Stop Smoking: If you are a smoker, quitting smoking alone will radically improve your health. Do what you can to kick butt, being certain to implement stress-reduction techniques to help you stay smoke-free for the rest of your life.
* Bring in Reinforcements for Those Weak Spots: I have found in my practice that many people are diligent about one aspect of their health, but struggle with others. The expert dieter has a heck of a time sticking to an exercise regimen and the exercise enthusiasts struggle to keep their food streamlined. Regardless of your preference, it’s likely that you struggle with work-life balance, emotional nourishment, and adequate restoration. All these factors play into restoring your heart health. Reach out to those around you for support. If you need additional help, hiring a health professional or personal trainer to facilitate this transition can be a richly rewarding and empowering experience.