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A Healthy Heart So You May Thrive

By Debbie Zimmerman

February can be a very expensive month! For celebrating football fans, Super Bowl represents spending of $17.2 billion (2020). Saint Valentine’s Day tallies $27.4 billion in cards, chocolates, dining, balloons, and bouquets. Then there is the American Heart Month, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Heart Association, and other public health officials recognize the nation’s most deadly and devastating disease—heart disease. Not only does heart disease cost $363 billion, but it also claims the lives of 659,000 Americans each year. By the way, that is 1,805 people dying every day or the equivalent of having six (6) jumbo jets falling from the sky—one every four hours! Not only is that a tremendous burden on the health care system, think of the physical and emotional costs.

The CDC estimates that 48% of Americans have some form of heart disease, which includes high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure. The good news is that there are lifestyle changes we can make to reduce our risks of heart disease. I hope after reading this blog YOU will feel empowered to make changes in your diet and lifestyle to prevent becoming a heart disease statistic. Just follow these five simple steps and you’ll be on your way to a heart-healthy lifestyle:

Heart Healthy (HH) Step #1: Adopt a whole food, plant-based lifestyle

According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, “Diets higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a general population.” Dr. Michael Greger,, agrees. However, after years of exhaustive digging through nutrition research at the National Library of Medicine, Dr. Greger has the scientific evidence proving that some plant foods are healthier than others. In his book, How Not to Die, Dr. Greger explains the research and demonstrates why some plant foods are considered healthier than others. To provide guidance and to coach us along our journey to optimal health, Dr. Greger developed the “Daily Dozen.” In his list, you will find the healthiest foods that he says, “…may prevent, treat and even reverse the progression of many of our deadliest diseases, including the number one killer, heart disease.”

HH Step #2: Manage Your Stress

In their book, “UnDoIt,” Dr. Dean Ornish and his wife, Ann Ornish, demonstrate how simple lifestyle changes can reverse most chronic diseases. They identify four lifestyle practices that lead to optimal health including “Move More, Eat Well, Stress Less, and Love More.” Dr. Ornish isn’t a novice at reversing diseases as his research in the mid to late 1980s culminated in his book, Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease…Without Drugs or Surgery. His recommendations for reversing heart disease also include following a plant-based, low-fat (less than 10% fat) diet, daily exercise (30 minutes a day), and stress management.

In my blog, Take A Deep Breath…and Relax, you will find information on other ways of managing stress through deep breathing, visualization, and meditation.

HH Step #3: Adopt a Pet

Can a pet really help to prevent or recover from heart disease? In his book, The Holistic Heart Book, cardiologist, Dr. Joel K. Kahn states, “People are better able to complete a stressful task if they have a pet with them; they find their pets more emotionally soothing than friends or family.” Dr. Kahn further explains, “…pets also seem to have an amazing impact on stress, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.”

Dr. Erika Friedman’s study, Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge…from a coronary care unit, found that one year after being released from the coronary care unit, 94% of the patients who were pet owners were still alive, as compared to 71% of the patients without pets.

In the blog post, 102 Scientific Benefits of Owning a Dog, veterinarian, Dr. Libby Guise, shows how being a pet owner can help us overcome loneliness, ease anxiety, become more relaxed, and reduce stress by increasing hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. In addition, she cites a 2002 study demonstrating that dog owners have better heart health! If you would like more information on being a dog or pet owner, visit:

HH Step #4: Move More

We have all heard of the many benefits of an active lifestyle. According to the CDC, “Everyone can experience health benefits from physical activity.” The good news is that it doesn’t take that much exercise to reach the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity movement each week. This may not only reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol; it will also reduce your overall risk of heart disease.

In his book, Open Heart, Akil Taher, MD, shares his journey from long hours at his medical practice to his heart attack at age 56. Dr. Taher introduced daily exercise into his lifestyle immediately following open-heart surgery. He went from couch potato to daily walks. Through persistence, determination, and courage, he began to run 5K and 10K races; then he progressed to marathons. Now, more than 15 years later at the age of 71, Dr. Taher has not slowed down. He recently completed another marathon during the 2021 holidays. He says, “Exercise can decrease your blood pressure, increase your good cholesterol and increase your endorphins to make you feel better. In the long run, it decreases your heart rate so that more oxygen can be pulled out of the blood without overworking the heart.”

Dr. Taher believes it is not enough to survive a heart attack, he says, we need to thrive. He wrote, “Let your mind take your body to places you never thought you would be able to…. It will help uplift you to accomplish amazing feats that are beyond your wildest dreams.”

HH Step #5: Don’t worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy: Through his extensive travels for National Geographic, Dan Buettner identifies the five “happiest regions” on the globe and how this translated into longer, healthier living. In his book, Thrive, Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, Buettner identifies six areas that are important for overall happiness including:

  • Self: “When it comes to happiness, does your inner self include a capacity for gratitude, openness to give and receive love and an appreciation of the arts?”

  • Home: “Is your home set up to nudge you into behaviors that favor happiness and away from behaviors that generate discontent?”

  • Workplace: “Have you selected an engaging job that lets you exercise your talents without consuming you? Does your workplace environment facilitate meaningful work?”

  • Social Life: “Do your friends influence you to eat right, be active, laugh, and otherwise to reach your potential? Or, do they load you down with negative feelings?”

  • Financial Life: “What are the savings and spending strategies you have adopted? Do you have too much easy credit or spending cash? Is it easier for you to save or to spend?”

  • Community: “Does your government create an environment that helps you to feel good about your life and to live out your values.”

Although American Heart Month is only celebrated in February, we must all be making daily, weekly, and monthly efforts to combat heart disease. We need to do everything possible to prevent, arrest, reverse (if applicable), and remove this disease from our lives. Although there are only five steps listed above, all of them take persistence, determination, and courage to overcome our #1 killer—heart disease!


Want more from Debbie?

Visit her at PhytoFit to learn more and attend her upcoming events!

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