Lifestyle Changes for Cardiovascular Health

In functional medicine, we begin treatment conservatively and emphasize prevention through tailored lifestyle medicine. This is something that most doctors are not practicing, which is partly responsible for the heart disease epidemic that has been growing for the past 60+ years. According to the now famous INTERHEART study, 90% of our risk for developing heart disease is due to lifestyle factors, so coaching our patients through tailored lifestyle modifications is critical. Continue reading below for specific ways to support your heart health through sleep/relaxation, exercise/movement, nutrition, stress management, and healthy relationships.

Sleep/relaxation – Sleep is one of the most underrated aspects of our health. In 2022, many Americans are chronically sleep deprived, as 33% of Americans sleep fewer than 6 hours per night. This is up from just 2% in 1965! This is problematic for many reasons. Sleep is necessary in order to file away long-term memory, to optimize detoxification and cancer cell suppression, to reduce inflammation, etc. The less time your body has to sleep, the more dysfunction you begin to see in various organ systems. Another reason sleep is so important to your health is that that the fatigue due to chronic sleep loss tends to result in worse food choices. We often reach for carbohydrates to give us a quick energy boost, and research has shown that high refined carbohydrate diets are a risk factor for heart disease. Lack of sleep can also increase your risk of high blood pressure. When you sleep at night your body has the opportunity to rest and lower your blood pressure. Additionally, if you are not sleeping well at night, your body releases stress hormones during the day that constrict your blood vessels and can contribute to chronically high blood pressure. If you are finding sleep a challenge, you can learn more from “How to Sleep Like a Pro” in the patient handouts tab of our website. 

Exercise/Movement – Have you heard of high intensity interval training (HIIT)? It combines periods of high intensity (90-95% of your max heart rate) training, with lower intensity recovery (60-70% of your max heart rate). This type of training can be great for your health. It not only gives your muscles a great workout, it also gives your arteries a workout as they constrict and relax to move the blood through your body. High intensity is individualized and may look different for you depending on your current level of fitness. For some, it could mean walking uphill at a quickened pace, while for others it could mean a fast paced weighted workout circuit. If this is something you are ready to pursue, make sure to check with your doctor before beginning. It may also be beneficial to work with a trainer to ensure you are performing movements safely.

Nutrition – When it comes to food, one of the best options we provide our patients is the CardioMetabolic food plan. A balanced macronutrient ratio of 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates has been found in the scientific literature to support blood sugar regulation and the therapeutic foods identified in the food plan provide the phytonutrients your body needs to restore and maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Additionally, a 20/60/20 ratio may be beneficial for those with current blood sugar problems. We can custom tailor the food plan to best meet your needs including calorie goals and serving sizes, food sensitivities and aversions, and incorporating intermittent fasting when appropriate.

Stress – Often we associate being stressed with higher blood pressure, and while this is true, stress has an impact on the overall inflammation in our bodies. As mentioned above, circadian dysregulation (sleep stress) can result in poor food choices that again can increase our risk of cardiovascular disease. Finding ways to manage our stress in healthy ways is fundamental to our health. You may consider taking a walk while sipping a bottle of water instead of eating the donut in the staff lounge. You’ll feel better knowing you made a healthier choice, which will improve you’re mood as well! Other options for managing your stress are deep breathing, meditation, practicing time management, journaling, and talk therapy. The possibilities for this are limitless, it’s finding what works best for you in different situations.

Relationships – One of the best ways to make positive changes in your lifestyle is to get support from the people around you. Who do you know that might also benefit from the changes you are looking to make? Could you ask them if they want to join you and help hold you accountable? Even if the people around you including friends and family aren’t looking to make a change, how might you get them on board with supporting you? The better the support system around us, the more likely we are to be successful with our goals.

If you are looking to make a change in one of these areas but aren’t sure where to start, please contact our office. Our doctors can sit down and create a personalized plan with you when you’re ready to get started.

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