Common Recommendations for Heart Health
A common-sense approach runs through both Western and Eastern attitudes toward heart health:
- Your Diet — Fresh Is Best Jane White, president of the American Dietetic Association, recommends a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and low in saturated fat. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the purpose of food is to maintain optimum levels of qi, moisture and blood. What a person should eat depends on the excesses or deficiencies of their system at the time. Lad says the Ayurvedic approach to a heart-healthy diet includes lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, along with an avoidance of high cholesterol and tryglycerides and excess sugar, salt and fried foods.
- Engage Your Body and Mind in Exercise "Daily exercise for 30-60 minutes is a must," says White. The National Institutes of Health publication, "Exercise: A Guide for Aging," recommends endurance activities to improve the health of the heart, lungs and circulatory system; strength exercises to help older adults remain strong enough to be self-reliant; balance exercises to prevent falls, and stretching to keep the body limber. Jahnke's recommendation is qigong — self-healing exercises that balance qi and bring you back into harmony with nature. The exercises incorporate posture, movement, breathing, meditation and visualization, and move oxygen and nutrition from the blood to the tissues. Lad also recommended regular cardiac exercise, including walking, power walking, swimming, yoga and certain breathing exercises.
- Maintain a Stress-Free Attitude Many Western studies have confirmed that excessive stress is a risk factor for heart disease, and both conventional and alternative medical practitioners recommend exercise as a healthy stress-buster. According to Lad, an attitude adjustment can go a long way toward heart health since worries, anxiety and confusion all affect the heart. "If you love what you do, if you love yourself as you are, you will age slowly," he said. Jahnke says an important part of qigong is "clearing the mind, which means to readjust oneself in relationship to everything that's going on in the world, so that you can be in a state of calm."
What About Dietary Supplements?
Here's where Eastern and Western paths to heart health tend to diverge.
According to the National Institute of Aging and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the best way to get the nutrients you need is through a healthy diet, not through expensive supplements you might not need.