February is American Heart Month and a great time to focus on the organ that beats around 3 billion times, nonstop, in the average human lifetime. Your heart sustains you, providing life-giving oxygen and nutrients via your bloodstream to all parts of your body. So, what have you done for your heart lately? Here, we offer natural strategies for boosting heart health, and improving your overall wellness.
Exercise to support your ticker. We often believe that exercising more and faster is better. Not so. New research from the National Institutes of Health has found that lower-intensity exercise (staying just below your target heart rate) is healthier than exercise that's high stress and high intensity. Research found that athletes who overdo it can develop scarring of the heart over time.
Take time to rejuvenate in nature. Stress is bad for the heart. At least once a day, if you can, head outdoors to breathe deeply and connect with nature. Doing anything outside, whether it's taking a hike or sitting in the park, significantly reduces stress hormones and lowers your blood pressure, which benefits your heart—and your mood.
Connect with friends and loved ones. How is being in community with loved ones good for the heart? Connecting with others helps you keep a positive attitude even in the middle of stressful life challenges. The heart is the seat of your emotions; it's where love, bonding, connection, and intimacy originate. By spending time with others, you have the opportunity to give and receive love, and that's good for the heart too!
Eat more heart-healthy foods. There are certain foods that are heart protective because they contain omega 3 and other healthy fats, critical vitamins and minerals, and fiber and phytonutrients that help keep heart tissues healthy. Here's a partial list of foods you should eat more of: salmon, ground flaxseed, oatmeal, black or pinto beans, raw almonds and walnuts, and brown rice. Among the many heart-healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, these are especially beneficial: orange vegetables, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, citrus and blueberries.
Get 6-8 hours of sleep. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that getting too little or too much sleep is bad for the heart, increasing your risk for heart disease. However, there's another good reason to work on getting the right amount of sleep: Sleep washes away any negatives from the day before and helps you feel charged up and ready to go for the next day. It's really true that troubles always seem easier to deal with after a good night's sleep!
Laugh, smile, play. To high-tech modern ears, it may seem silly to laugh your problems away. But scientists have found ample evidence for the health benefits of lightheartedness and optimism for healing and fighting off illness. Seeking happiness-producing activities is a good way to relieve stress and boost your mood—and heart health. Give it a try this month. It will do your heart good.
Shaman-healer Brant Secunda and six-time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen teach seminars on fitness and well-being and are the authors of the book Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You. For more information, visit www.fitsoul-fitbody.com.
Heart hands image via Shutterstock