Valentine’s Day is a holiday often celebrated with flowers, chocolate and red wine. No matter what stage of life you are in, this holiday is all about connecting with those we love, whether a partner, family member, friend or pet. As we look to celebrate love, the heart has become analogous with the expression and feeling of love. It dates back to the very earliest experiments in anatomy in Egypt in the second century BC. As nerves were followed around the body, the clear majority seemed to lead to the solar plexus in the chest. This gave rise to the theory that the heart was the seat of emotion and reason. I believe that these ancient observations were correct. The heart – whether metaphorical or literal – must be in a place of wholeness to be able to truly connect with another human (or yourself).
Many of my female clients are shocked to learn that in the United States, heart disease kills more women than anything else – even more than cancer. Heart disease is a metabolic disorder – in the same family as obesity, stroke, fatty liver and cardiovascular dysfunction. It can be invisible – a woman can be trim and still have suboptimal heart function. While many doctors routinely screen men for this condition, women are often overlooked. Another important distinction is that heart disease manifests differently in men and women. For example, signs of a heart attack vary significantly between genders – many women don’t know what to look for in order to get timely help. The good news is that here in the United States, anyone’s chances of surviving a heart attack are high – assuming medical care is administered in a timely manner.
So as women, what do we need to do to keep our heart healthy? For me, the answer is multi-dimensional – it involves the physical and the emotional.
The Physical – this dimension is what most of us think about when I mention heart health. And I think it’s the easiest to get right. We all know what to do.
- Eat a clean, Wildatarian® diet. Cut out hidden sugars in processed foods. Avoid ingredients you don’t understand. Eat whole food – full of nutrients your heart needs and avoid anything boxed, bagged or packaged.
- Move. Notice that I didn’t say exercise. Move your body – you don’t have to run a marathon or take a spin class. Walk. Do yoga. Clean your home. Find physical activities that you love – those that get you off the couch. Try to raise your heart rate. If you love exercise – great; it can be a good way to detox and clear your thoughts. It’s what I do, and it has become an important part of who I am.
- Sleep. This is when the body repairs itself and does metabolic cleanup. Skimping on sleep can leave metabolic wastes in the body, and these, in turn, can collect in tissues and blood vessels causing problems.
- Get tested. Modern medicine offers easy ways to look at what’s flowing in our blood vessels and how likely it is to cause a future problem. Don’t settle for a standard cholesterol test or fall for simplified concepts like “good and bad cholesterol”. It’s more complicated than that. Demand detailed particle profile and inflammation testing available through all standard labs. This is the only way to tell what your cholesterol is doing and assess your personal risk. Ask for a Cardiac Calcium scan – a non-invasive, quick screen for coronary calcifications. Have a carotid IMT test to assess stroke risk. Do these yearly – be proactive. Check your blood pressure at home to make sure it stays within healthy levels.
The Emotional – this dimension is less obvious. But it’s there. What you think and feel has a direct effect on the body, including the heart. We know that the thoughts we think can directly increase or decrease inflammation. Studies have clearly linked negative physical manifestations to emotions such as anger and fear. Smiling has the opposite effect – it improves immune function and lowers the toxic body burden. Stress, the kind that has become part and parcel of the Standard American Lifestyle, disrupts basic body functions and has a direct negative correlation with heart health. It can increase blood pressure, inflaming blood vessels and causing plaque buildup. It also unleashes a hormone storm in the body – disrupting all metabolic processes.
Improving your emotional state is as important as tending to the physical body – your heart can not be healthy without it. Getting to your optimal emotional health takes daily practice of stopping or interrupting those factors, emotions and thoughts that can affect us negatively. Beautifully, many avenues exist to help us with this journey. Engage in a meaningful spiritual practice – religious or otherwise. Be connected to a supportive community – however you define it. Engage with life by finding meaningful ways to live. Cultivate hobbies that help you feel joy. Get help – through counseling, support groups, neurofeedback, energy healing and other modalities. Strive to live a mindful life – be in the present and stop focusing on the past or the future. Teach yourself to respond properly to whatever life brings. Build resilience. Give up the illusion of control – the only thing you can truly control is yourself.
So this Valentine’s day, along with the flowers, chocolate and wine, look to the dimensions of your heart and its health. Whether in the physical or emotional realm, take the steps you need to have a healthy heart. And of course, The Wildatarian Diet: Living as Nature Intended is an amazing first step to self-love and improving and maintaining heart health.
If you want to take it a step further, and gain insight on your heart health, I recommend a program called HeartMath that will do all the tracking right to your phone!
If you choose to indulge in some heart-healthy dark chocolate this Valentine’s Day, Hu Kitchen brand is a favorite in my office. Grab yours here! If wine is more your taste, I always recommend Dry Farm Wines which are sulfate, sugar and gluten free!
To the Tru of You™,