What is holistic health and how can we approach heart health holistically?

by Shelby Kwartler, Katz JCC Certified Wellness Coach

Holistic health is a way of thinking about health that considers the whole person – not just their body, but also their mind and spirit. For generations, great leaders and thinkers have considered the relationship between our mental, physical, and spiritual health. Today, doctors and researchers are demonstrating the potential for healing through this connection.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer in America, and the number one killer specifically in women. Current research suggests that the connection between our mind, body, and spirit play a significant role in heart health. Most cardiovascular conditions occur when these aspects are out of sync, the imbalance of one facet leading to the misalignment of others.

General nutrition guidelines for a healthy heart include incorporating whole grains, lots of fresh produce and healthy fats, and minimizing carbohydrates, salt, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods. Diet is a beneficial route to avoid hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can lead to many adverse cardiovascular effects such as heart attack, stroke, and weakened blood vessels. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease. Often considered as the hardest-working muscle in your body, it’s important for your heart to keep training in order to stay in shape. Running and other aerobic exercise is extremely effective, but anything to get your body moving and your heart pumping will help.

Rest is also extremely important for heart health. During the deep stages of sleep your blood pressure lowers, your muscles relax, and your body begins to repair and restore itself from damage done during the day. Disrupting sleep can disrupt the chemical and hormonal processes that occur during this time, increasing levels of insulin and other hormones like cortisol, which is related to stress.

Stress is sometimes considered solely a manifestation of the mind, but it can also show up in the body. Excess cortisol can contribute to weight gain, hypertension, and a slew of other imbalances. In addition to diet and rest, regulating emotions is a key element of stress management. Evidence shows both that negative emotions can compromise stress levels and heart health, and that positive emotions such as gratitude and love can result in lowered inflammation and improved sleep quality.

The heart is widely known to represent love. Anatomically, it is the center of all of our vital organs and symbolically, it has been considered the center of the soul. Spiritual well-being activities such as meditation/prayer and connecting with nature can help nurture your soul and therefore support your heart. Research has explicitly shown many health benefits to a regular spiritual practice, including lowering cortisol and blood pressure levels.

I hope you’ll join me and learn more about taking care of your cardiovascular health through a holistic lens of mind, body and spirit in the free virtual Holistic Heart Health Lecture coming up on Wednesday, February 24 at 6:30pm. Learn more and register.

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