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Heart disease is the number one killer of Australian men and women. We asked the top holistic health experts about how to keep your ticker in tip-top form.

1. Go deeper

“Most people only use one-third of their lung capacity to breathe, which is called thoracic breathing,” says naturopath Kate Reardon. “This affects heart health because the blood the heart is pumping through the body is then much lower in oxygen, meaning the tissues don’t receive the oxygen they need for repair and optimal function. Taking 10 slow, deep breaths will calm the nervous system, boost the blood’s oxygen capacity, and improve blood flow from your heart, which all assist cellular rejuvenation. Do this several
times a day.”

2. Say thank-you

“Did you know that the physiological response created in the body when we practise gratitude is more effective at shutting down the stress response than any drug or supplement?” says wellbeing coach Tammy Biton. “A study published in Integrative Physiological & Behavioral Science showed that practising gratitude lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol levels by as much as 23 percent.”

3. Sleep on it

“We know keeping our weight in a healthy range benefits heart health, but it’s not just what you put in your mouth that matters,” says Biton. “Sleep is crucial to cellular regeneration, and a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that it’s during this downtime that we actually lose weight and retain lean muscle mass. For most adults, seven to eight hours is adequate.”

4. Beet it

“According to the traditional Doctrine of Signatures, beetroot was good for the heart because it looked like blood,” says naturopath Kate Johnston. “This actually turns out to be true, as beetroot is a rich source of antioxidants and nitrates, both of which are vital to heart health. Studies show that drinking just 500ml of raw beetroot juice a day can lower blood pressure, improve circulation, increase exercise performance, and reduce oxidative damage. However, cooked beetroot won’t provide the same therapeutic qualities, as the phytochemicals are damaged by heat. Try juicing or grating raw beetroot for best results.”

5. Find more joy

“The heart represents love, pumping joy throughout the body,” says intuitive healer E.J. Love. “If you don’t allow for love and joy in life, this can cause heart problems. The key is to start seeing joy in the little things, and be grateful for them every day; then you will be able to open your heart to even more joy. Express love to all those around you, and allow yourself to receive love. For example, if someone compliments you, don’t brush it off: look them in the eye and thank them. This will open your heart to receive the compliment.”

6. Take five

“In traditional Chinese medicine, the Heart is very closely linked with our emotions,” explains acupuncturist Kim Gatenby. “So, when we experience extreme emotions, the heart suffers physically as well. To protect the heart physically, we need to develop techniques to support it emotionally. When we practise techniques like mindfulness and positive thinking on a daily basis, we are better equipped to handle emotions like grief and anger. Start by taking five minutes every morning before getting out of bed to lie in stillness and think about what’s great in your life at the moment.”

7. Unplug!

“Do a ‘digital detox’,” advises Shannon Kolkka of Gwinganna Health Retreat. “The health benefits of switching off are supported with several studies showing that taking a break, both from work and your smartphone, reduces your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Top tips for switching off: schedule your digital detox during a slower time at work, to reduce your anxiety about being unplugged; consider doing a ‘light detox’ to start with – maybe allocate just half an hour a day to attend to crucial matters; and if you have no self-restraint – leave your phone at home!”

8. Tame the stress tiger

“Begin with scheduling time for yourself to relax,” suggests naturopath Donna Abbate. “This can be regular yoga or meditation, or a daily walk, in nature, such as a park or a beach. Being out in nature is proven to be a valuable contributor in reducing stress: a review of 120 studies, published in the International Journal of Public Health, discovered that time in gardens, parks and wilderness settings resulted in lower pulse rates and better wellbeing. Stop striving and pushing and placing such high expectations on yourself. Simply rest by finding joy in what you are doing. Studies show a strong link between feelings of hopelessness and anger and heart disease – practising mind-body skills like yoga can restore control and calm.

9. Find your purpose

“When researchers have studied the ‘blue zones’ - areas around the world where people live the longest - one thing that always remained the same was they all maintained a sense of purpose,” says Johnston. “This could be anything, from tending the garden, caring for family, or participating in community gatherings, to writing a book. Whatever it is that makes your heart sing, find it and keep doing it. Finding your purpose
has also been shown to add up to seven years to your life expectancy.”

10. Eat clean

“Choose organic meat and eggs - non-organic meat contains toxins which can damage health and promote bad cholesterol,” says personal trainer James Duigan. “Reduce the amount of salt in your diet, because it increases blood pressure. Also reduce your intake of sugar, alcohol, and processed foods, as all are unnatural and make extra work for your heart, trying to cleanse the body of these toxins. And increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, and walnut and flaxseed oils.”

11. Get bendy

“Practics yoga and deep belly breathing,” adds Duigan. “Yoga is an excellent way to counter stress, while pranayama - rhythmical breathing techniques - reduces tension. Regular exercise improves the heart’s ability to produce oxygen and deliver it to the muscles. The heart also becomes stronger and works more efficiently while we are resting, giving us more energy throughout the day. Make sure you warm up and cool down with every workout: this allows your heart rate to increase gradually and so direct extra blood flow to your muscles. At the end of your session, your blood pressure will have time to regulate, bringing down your body temperature.”

12. Press the point

“Reflexology improves heart efficiency by stimulating blood flow to the heart through a reflex zone on the feet, says Ivy Han of Liangzi Health Oasis. “The human foot is made up of 7,000-7,200 nerve endings and each of the reflex zones on the ‘map’ on the feet corresponds to individual body organs: the upper left ball of the sole ‘maps’ the heart. When pressure is applied to these areas through massage, it restores homeostasis, or balance, in the whole body and stimulates the movement of energy along nerve channels, increasing blood flow to organs. In ancient Chinese practice, to take good care of our feet is the same as taking good care of our organs.”

13. Keep it real

“Eating foods that our body has evolved to eat is the best start,” says nutritionist Cyndi O’Meara. “Many processed foods may look and taste like food, but they are engineered by the food industry’s technology and filled with additives to enhance flavour, colour, look and mouth feel in a well preserved state. Eat real foods that have not been genetically modified or chemically hybridised and are ethically grown: meat, fish, poultry, wild game, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, legumes, some grains, and unprocessed, fermented dairy. When we eat real foods our body has the intelligence to create health, not only for the heart but the entire body.”

14. Be choosy about carbs

“Minimise your intake of refined carbohydrates and alcohol to keep your triglyceride levels down,” says dietitian Kara Landau. “Most people focus on the types of fats in their diet and how these effect their cholesterol levels. In fact, keeping your triglyceride levels intact is just as important for overall heart health."

15. Be a homebody

“Look after your heart by cooking more at home – use healthy oils like olive oil and add plenty of vegetables to all meals,” advises dietitian Milena Katz. “Cook fish a few times per week, steaming or baking it with herbs instead of frying. Eat baked beans and add lentils to your salads. Cut back on soft drinks, biscuits, cakes and lollies and enjoy stewed fruit or berries with natural low fat yoghurt.”

16. Go nuts

“Nuts are high in unsaturated fat which lowers cholesterol levels in the body - an important factor for lowering heart disease risk,” says dietitian Lisa Renn. “Nuts are also high in protein, making them a great between-meals snack as they can easily deal with any hunger pangs. Nuts are high in fat and also high in calories, but one small handful fits into a heart-healthy heart as well as maintaining your weight. Put nuts in a little bowl: don’t eat from the packet as you will eat too many.”

17. Get physical

“Aim to be active each day, in some way,” adds Renn. “The best way to ensure your activity takes place is to plan the when, what, duration, and how of your exercise goals. When you have a solid plan, it increases the chance of it actually happening. Including activities you enjoy and mixing it up will prevent boredom.”

18. Go the distance

Distance running can halt the ageing process by as much as 16 years, according to research from Federation University Australia. The research, conducted by PhD student Joshua Denham and led by Professor Fadi Charchar of the School of Health Sciences, studied the impact of distance running on telomeres in the human body. “Running – especially lots of running – can do wonders for telomeres,” says Charchar. “We found that ultra-marathon runners running 40 to 100 kilometres a week had 11 percent longer telomeres. This difference adds 16 years to life expectancy.”

19. Get your om on

“Meditation removes negative emotions from your system, using your chi,” explains wellness coach Bill Farr. “Once you generate chi, you can imagine it leaving your body and taking the negative emotions out of your
system.”

20. Correct imbalances
“Organs should age and operate at the same rate, but sometimes the intestines are ageing faster than the spleen, causing imbalances,” says Dr Liu, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. “The heart is king, and the lungs queen, of all organs. Correcting an imbalance within this anatomical monarchy – also including the spleen, large intestines and stomach - is key to tackling health complaints.”

21. Take a tablet

“High blood levels of antioxidants help prevent heart disease,” says Adrienne Osborne of Livevantage. “Take one Protandim tablet a day to reduce free radical damage, which increases with age. Protandim is a synergistic formula of five herbs that has been scientifically proven to lower oxidative stress (OS) by an average of 40 percent in 30 days, and can reduce it to the level of a 20 year-old. OS, which increases with age, is linked to over 200 major illnesses. Also, eat foods high in antioxidants: berries, red grapes, beans, cabbage, artichokes, carrots, pumpkins, winter squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, melons, citrus fruits, hawthorn, and green tea. Hawthorn’s beneficial effects on the heart and circulatory system have been the subject of extensive research.”

Meet our experts
Kate Reardon, naturopath, nutritionist and energy healer, www.naturalinstincthealing.com
Tammy Biton, wellbeing coach and hypnotherapist, www.tammybiton.com.au
Kate Johnston, naturopath, nutritionist and health coach, www.korewellbeing.com.au
E.J. Love, presenter and intuitive healer, www.LoveAngelsGlobal.com
Kim Gatenby, acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner, www.kimgatenby.com
Shannon Kolkka, general manager at Gwinganna Health Retreat, www.gwinganna.com
Donna Abbate, naturopath and program manager at Gwinganna Health Retreat, www.gwinganna.com
James Duigan, personal trainer, owner of Bodyism (www.bodyism.com) and author of Clean & Lean Diet (www.amazon.com)
Ivy Han, general manager, Liangzi Health Oasis Sydney, www.liangzi.com.au
Cyndi O’Meara, nutritionist and founder of Changing Habits www.changinghabits.com.au
Kara Landau, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and accredited practising dietitian
Milena Katz, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and accredited practising dietitian
Lisa Renn, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and accredited practising dietitian
Professor Fadi Charchar of the School of Health Sciences, Federation University Australia
Bill Farr, relationship and wellness coach, www.TheArtofUnity.com
Dr Liu, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, www.tcmaustralia.com.au
Adrienne Osborne, spokesperson, www.Livevantage.com