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You and I need to have a heart-to-heart talk. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, responsible for nearly 1 out of every 3 deaths – despite the war against cholesterol. The risk only increases as you age, not only for death from heart disease but also disability. The good news is your heart is in your hands – it’s never too late to win the fight against heart disease.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), summertime is the right time of year to focus on the health of your heart. The heart represents our “fire” and keeps the body strong by circulating our blood, and delivering the nutrients and energy from the foods we eat to all the tissues in our body. Foods, herbs, spices, and drinks in the TCM Fire Element have been known for centuries to strengthen the health of the heart – cayenne pepper, pomegranate, beets, turmeric, ginger, cranberry, hawthorn berry, cherries, dandelion, strawberries, purple rice, as well as all the “bitters” that are used in my Radical Metabolism plan.
The way you take care of your heart in your youth is different from what you need to pay attention to as you age. For example, your need for iron is typically much lower after menopause. But, there are other key differences, too. Here are 5 steps you can take to ensure “the beat goes on” and your heart stays healthy and strong.
“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Betty Friedan
The old saying “move it or lose it” is very true when it comes to your body and your mobility. Modern conveniences like escalators and elevators save us time and energy, while online shopping keeps us from ever having to leave the house at all! Unfortunately, they also keep us from having to move around, and what starts as stiff joints in the morning can quickly progress to painful or immobile joints that send us straight into the arms of the nearest walker for support.
Not to mention what’s happening to your heart. It’s not an apple a day that keeps the doctor away – it’s daily aerobic exercise! The best way to lower triglycerides and raise healthy cholesterol levels is with 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every single day. In fact, I would venture to say that regular, daily exercise cures more ills than any other prescription on the market.
You deserve to look good and feel good – and exercise can get you there. Did you know the number one reason women don’t exercise is embarrassment? Listen, you don’t need to join a gym and wrestle your way into tight workout clothes to give your heart the workout it needs. Start by dancing in your living room, or join a group that walks the mall in the mornings before the stores open. Find what works for you and make it your new daily habit.
Men and post-menopausal women need less iron than women who are in their childbearing years. Our monthly menstrual cycles deplete our iron stores, especially when flow is heavy. Too much iron is not a good thing – it’s a risk factor for heart disease.
If you are feeling fatigue and heart palpitations, and experiencing hair loss and frequent infections, consider that your iron may be getting too high. In addition, your blood tests may show low to normal iron levels, but because you are deficient in magnesium, copper, and/or boron, your body is storing iron in your tissues instead of making it bioavailable in your blood. This means the testing may not accurately reflect your true iron overload, because low iron in the blood does not necessarily mean low iron in your tissues.
The most common tests for iron are done as part of a Complete Blood Count (CBC) – hemoglobin and hematocrit. Thorough iron studies would include ferritin, which is an indicator of the iron stores in your body, plus serum iron, TIBC, and levels of zinc, magnesium, copper, and ceruloplasmin. Once these results are interpreted by a knowledgeable health care provider, you should have a good idea of what your true iron levels are and whether iron is putting you at risk for heart disease.
You may think this is the point where I put cholesterol out there as the villain behind heart disease – but it isn’t. Despite cholesterol-lowering statin drugs being handed out almost like candy to people of advanced years, and the push to have your cholesterol checked yearly, more people still die of heart disease than any other cause every single year.
Cholesterol isn’t your enemy; on the contrary, it’s an essential building block of every single cell in your body, as well as many of your hormones. Cholesterol doesn’t just deposit at random in your blood vessels, it’s there for a reason. Once your blood vessel becomes damaged, your body sends cholesterol to repair and protect it.
So what’s behind all the damage? Inflammation. Once your arteries become inflamed, the lining is injured more easily. But inflammation is a nasty, vicious cycle that feeds on itself, and as a result, the cholesterol that’s sent to make repairs can do more harm than good – resulting in increased plaque and even blood clots – because of the high levels of inflammation present.
That excess weight you’re carrying – which is a heart disease risk by itself – is also a sign your body is full of inflammation. To lose the inflammation – and the weight – you need to eliminate the “triple threat” of inflammatory foods in your diet that lead to weight gain and heart disease: processed foods, high sugar foods, and trans fats. If you’re not sure where to start or what to eat, my Fat Flush Plan can help.
We’ve heard it often enough, but how many of us truly get enough clean, filtered water in on a daily basis? It’s especially challenging as we age, because our levels of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes are dwindling, and our appetite and thirst often decline as a result. But as I’m sure you know, feeling thirsty is the last sign your body gives that you need more water.
I believe chronic, low-grade dehydration is an often overlooked cause of the heart rhythm abnormalities many older adults struggle with. Your heart is a muscle, and as you become even mildly dehydrated, the muscle shrinks, you lose blood volume, and your heart beats faster to compensate and keep the blood circulating. Combining this with the lower potassium levels that accompany dehydration and increase in sodium in the blood, and soon you have blood pressure changes, dizziness, and weakness, which are all too common symptoms as we age.
It isn’t just the volume of water you drink that’s important, it’s also the timing. Your goal is to drink half your body weight in ounces of clean, filtered water every day, with no more than half a cup (4 ounces) every half an hour. If you try to drink more than that in one sitting, you will cleanse your kidneys but may not retain enough to hydrate you. And it’s important to abstain from drinking anything with a meal, waiting at least 30 minutes after eating to drink, so you don’t dilute your digestive juices.
Chronic stress and lack of sleep are two other risk factors for heart disease that we don’t give enough attention. Long term stress means your body lives in “fight or flight” mode, which means stress hormones are raging and you are constantly on high alert. Your body doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a bear, staying up too late to watch another episode of your favorite show, or worrying because your daughter hasn’t called to say she arrived home safe – physiologically, it’s all the same. It isn’t long before this chronic stress contributes to the inflammation that causes heart disease.
Lack of sleep is no different. By itself, it’s a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. So reduce your stress and relax yourself to get ready to sleep with meditation, guided imagery, visualization, breathing exercises, and reducing blue light and EMF exposure before bed.
When you go in for your routine physical this year, make sure you’re getting the most up-to-date blood testing done to measure the health of your heart. And it’s important to understand that while every lab test has a “normal” range, research shows there’s an “optimal” range that better predicts the underlying risk of heart disease. Make sure you are well hydrated for at least a week before having any bloodwork done. Here are the tests I recommend and optimal ranges are listed, where applicable.
For a daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more… check out my Radical Health Tips.