February may be the shortest month, but we’re wholehearted about giving our insights about how to know if your heart is healthy. Earlier in American Heart Month, we talked about signs and tests for heart health and circulation, from plaque buildup in the arteries (called “atherosclerosis”) to our reciprocal relationships with our communities. And we discussed strategies for healthy cholesterol, reducing dietary inflammation, and exercising the connective capacity of our spiritual hearts. (Read the full article here!) Now, we’ll turn to some of the stressors that can impact the heart, and how you can stay resilient.
In addition to inflammation in the blood vessels, other forms of heart disease involve inflammation in the heart muscle itself. These diseases (myocarditis, endocarditis, pericarditis) are less common but tend to occur in younger people, while atherosclerosis typically develops with advancing age. Some signs may include:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Swelling in ankles, lower legs, or feet
- Reduced stamina, fatigue, or weakness
- Pain, pressure, or tightness in your chest
If a problem in the heart muscle is suspected, certain tests can help figure out what’s going on:
- An electrocardiogram (a.k.a EKG or ECG) can determine abnormalities in the electrical activity of the heart.
- An echocardiogram (a.k.a. ECHO) is a specialized ultrasound that identifies abnormalities in the heart’s structure and function.
- An exercise stress test evaluates your heart’s ability to adapt to an increased workload.
- Infectious diseases are often a cause of inflammatory heart diseases. Antibody, antigen or immune function tests may uncover the root causes.
Blood pressure is another essential aspect of heart health. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major contributor to heart disease, and can affect organs across the body including the kidneys, eyes, and brain. Like atherosclerosis, hypertension has few or no symptoms. Screening is key:
- Check your blood pressure. For the best results, try checking both at home and with your doctor. Studies show that even if your numbers are only high at the office (“white coat” hypertension), it can still have health consequences.1
- If you have a past history of exposure to lead (such as in paint, old pencils, leaded gas, or lead glazed pottery), consider testing for lead Lead has been shown to directly cause hypertension.2
Psychological stress weighs on the heart, both physically and spiritually. Excess stress, or the inability to manage stress, is an important driver of hypertension, and can fuel the habits of disconnection we discussed earlier this month.
How to keep your heart healthy:
Practice stress reduction strategies. Take a few moments each day, especially around stressful events, to breathe deeply. Try box breathing to stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce the fight or flight response. For support with breathwork, try HeartMath with our health coach Stephanie to learn how to tune your breathing with your heart. For energetic support, work with our nurse practitioner and Reiki master Sarah to balance stress energy in the body. Recent research even shows Reiki can reduce blood pressure.3 Call TMC to schedule with Stephanie or Sarah today!
Get active. Exercise of any kind will benefit the heart. It’s particularly helpful to get your heart rate up, to train the heart to regulate itself. If you’re strapped for time, high intensity interval training (HIIT) can have tremendous benefit. Try this super-powered 4-minute workout from Dr. Zach Bush!
Take heart healthy supplements. Anti-inflammatory fish oil, like Daily Benefit’s Omega Benefit, can reduce heart inflammation and support healthy blood pressure. Mag Glycinate is a relaxing form of magnesium to support a healthy stress response. The heart-strengthening amino acids in PropeL (propionyl-L and acetyl-L-carnitine) can improve circulation, brain energy, and heart contractility.
So, let’s keep our hearts healthy this February and beyond, to promote longevity and keep us connected to each other. We’re taking that to heart!
About the Author:
Jonah Udall is a nutritionist, herbalist, and functional medicine practitioner in-training, earning his Masters of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine at University of Western States. Chronic health challenges taught him the importance of seeking root causes, celebrating the individual, and finding collaborative paths to vibrant health with nature’s medicines. Jonah is also a professional musician and movement artist and a certified Deep Listening instructor.
- Tientcheu D, Ayers C, Das SR, et al. Target Organ Complications and Cardiovascular Events Associated With Masked Hypertension and White-Coat Hypertension: Analysis From the Dallas Heart Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66(20):2159-2169.
- Navas-Acien A, Guallar E, Silbergeld EK, Rothenberg SJ. Lead exposure and cardiovascular disease--a systematic review. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115(3):472-482.
- Pérez Briones NG, Ruiz Paloalto ML, Casique Casique L, et al. Effect of Reiki Therapy on Blood Pressure and Alcohol Consumption in Young Adults: A Clinical Trial. Altern Ther Health Med. Published online August 5, 2022:AT7277.