The heart…we need it for living, loving and even for laughing. Place your hand to your chest and feel your heart beat right now. This is our lifeline. We are only physically alive as long as our heart is beating. Sounds like a convincing enough reason to take the best care you can of this precious organ, right? Well, here are some ways to keep your ticker ticking stronger and longer!
I. EAT PLANTS
Eating a plant-based diet, and “swapping beef for beans,” as Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn says, is one of the best preventative measures one can take in terms of heart health. Actually, this is one of the best preventative measures one can take in terms of overall health. Plants are rich in micronutrients, absolutely brimming with phytonutrients and provide ample amounts of the essential macronutrients from which our bodies are built. Eating more plants has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides. One can consume heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids through foods like freshly ground flaxseed. Garlic is another known plant source known to be heart-healthy as it reduces blood pressure, is cancer preventing and plaque buildup.
II. MOVE YOUR BODY
Vigorous vinyasa flow targets all three aspects of a good “workout,” (though it’s still hard for me, even as a teacher, to wrap my brain around calling the sacred practice of yoga a “workout”), cardio, strength and flexibility. Cardiovascular exercise does not need to be a marathon, my loves! Just getting out for a brisk walk, doing some high intensity interval training for short periods of time (think power walk for 60 seconds, walk normally for 60, back and forth for 20 minutes). If running tickles your fancy, be my guest (but invest in good shoes with decent support and opt for softer surfaces to protect your joints). Climb on your bicycle, jump in the water, cycling and swimming are two of the gentlest forms of cardiovascular exercise, in terms of joint health.
III. PUT THE BREAKS ON STRESS
Stress negatively affects us in every possible capacity. According to the New York Times, “sudden stress increases the pumping action of the heart, while at the same time causing arteries to narrow, constricting blood flow to the heart.” The same article also states, “the emotional effects of stress alter the heart rhythms, which could pose a risk for serious arrhythmias (rhythm abnormalities) in people with existing heart rhythm disturbances.” If that’s not enough reason to practice yoga, take some deep breaths and get enough sleep (all stellar markers for reducing stress), then I don’t know what is!
IV. DETOXIFIY ON THE DAILY
Keeping the body low on toxins will help all of your organs function optimally. In having a system that functions at its highest capacity, you are making your heart’s job a whole lot easier. Having clean blood filtering through your veins will make for a happy heart and a happy body.
V. LOVE, AND THEN LOVE A LITTLE MORE
What can you possibly think of as a better wellness plan for your ticker than loving? Love emotionally, love mentally, love physically. A note on the latter, don’t underestimate the beneficial impact of a little lovemaking between the sheets on your darling ticker!
VI. LAUGH (AND THEN LAUGH A LITTLE MORE!)
In addition to being one of the greatest mood lifters and emotional healers, the act of laughing also has benefits beyond the physiological. Laughter boosts circulation and increases heart rate, which, in turn, boosts cardiovascular health. Laughing also tones the abdominal muscles making the core stronger.
In living a mindful life we typically slow down. Mindfulness can mean many things but, at its core, mindful living means choosing activities, surroundings and fuel that is holistically beneficial to the body. By feeding oneself healthy food, getting ample sleep, drinking plenty of water, moving one’s body everyday and maintaining positive relationships, the heart muscle will have all the tools to be stronger and beat longer.
VIII. SMOKE FREE IS THE WAY TO BE
Smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease. We all know that puffing on “cancer sticks” is unhealthy, but the bad habit directly affects the heart. So choose to pass, rather than puff, and avoid environments that are overly smoky. Second hand smoke and breathing in toxic air is severely damaging in its own right.
The heart needs oxygen, circulating oxygen (both from exercise and deep belly breathing) creates happy cells. You can even try one of my favorite yoga postures Viparita Karani, or more commonly known as Legs Up the Wall pose. Simply lie against a wall space with your legs stretched up the wall. Rest your hands on your lower belly, between pubic bone and belly button, and breathe into your palms. Between the reversal of circulation and the deep breathing, your heart will be pumping clean, fresh, oxygenated blood and dancing in gratitude.
X. EAT SOME DARK CHOCOLATE (‘CMON YOU KNEW #10 HAD TO BE SOMETHING FABULOUS)
Chocolate contains potent antioxidants, namely flavanols and flavanoids. I’m referring to real chocolate; unprocessed, unsweetened, preferably organic and raw cacao. Consuming a little heart healthy, real cacao each day boosts blood flow to the heart, protects the body from free radicals and lowers levels of harmful cholesterol. Plus, chocolate is delicious. Enjoying something delicious makes you happy, and a happy you means a happy heart.