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Heart Health: Diet, Exercise, and Sleep

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There are many things that factor into heart health. Three of the biggest components you control are diet, exercise, and sleep. In this video, Owings Mills health coach Yvonne Bull offers a few thoughts on each and talks about how they all can contribute positively to overall heart health. What the video below and read on for a transcript. 


Happy Heart Month. It's more than just Valentine's Day this month of February, it's also your heart health month. So how can your health, your overall health, impact your heart health?

Every time we think about heart health, a lot of times we think about the end result, when it's gotten to worst case scenario, maybe atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease, heart attacks, angina, quadruple bypasses.

It doesn't have to get to that point. What can we do now, whether we're genetically predisposed or not, to take care of the most important muscle in your body, your heart?


So, number one. It's going to be diet. Not diet as in going on a diet, but your dietary intake. And when they study people with the best hearts, it turns up out the Mediterranean style diet is their diet of choice.

So think about it. They're not eating processed foods that have all these preservatives and processed poisons in them that stay in your system for a long, long time, because they're meant to stay on the shelf for a long time. They're eating what I like to call "eating from the earth" and trying to limit the processed poisons.

Fish, whole grains. Not processed, flowery packaged breads with a lot of flour in them. Vegetables, fruits, seafood, a lot of seafood, very limited beef. Things that your body, lots of fiber can pass through and keep you healthy.

One Word Food Days

I have a challenge I put out to people and say it's one word food day. There's always somebody who's going to be funny and say, "What about pizza?" Pizza's really not one word, because there are a lot of ingredients that comprise a pizza, but I'm talking about eggs, berries, salmon, shrimp, cauliflower, lettuce, string beans, eating from the earth again and trying to limit that day from processed poisons that are filled with all of these artificial ingredients.

Limit Trans Frat

One of the biggest things we want to do is eliminate trans fats in our diet. And so, unfortunately, the FDA is not always on the side of the consumer, more on the side of the manufacturer. So they've given quite a nice guideline to manufacturers that their products can contain 0.95 trans fat and still be called "trans fat free."

So you as the consumer could be going through your day eating a lot of these processed poisons that you're saying, "Well, at least they're trans fat free," but by the end of the day, you could have consumed a lot of trans fat.

Again, the more we can eat clean and from the earth, whole foods, the better off we're going to be.


Let your energy intake, that's your calories coming in, food intake, equal your energy expenditure, creating energy balance. Make sure there's some energy expenditure, that's going to be our next topic of heart health.

The American Heart Association set a guideline, 150 minutes a week. That could be about 30 minutes five days a week, but it doesn't have to be consecutive. You can take 10 minutes. So if you're coming from the couch, look at your watch. Walk for five minutes, come back. That's a start, that's movement.

In fact, they found that anything greater than walking two miles an hour was beneficial for the heart, but it didn't need to be excessive beyond the three miles an hour. So it's also misconception, people think, "I got to get my heart rate up, I got to get my heart rate, or I'm not doing anything."

Target Heart Rate

You want to be within your target heart rate zone. That's important for burning calories and getting heart health, but you have to start somewhere. Start slowly and build strong. And again, a true test of heart strength is not how high you get that target heart rate.

It's how quickly you recover within a one to three minute span, and your heart is then back at a resting heart rate, because if your heart's always beating rapidly when you're at rest, you're not going to be around for too long.

Start think about incorporating movement including strength training and resistance training. And there's a lot of stuff available online these days. It's free on YouTube. Put it in, see what comes up, and look at some of our videos here, right at PartnerMD. We've got a wealth of videos that can help you get started in any exercise program you'd like to.

Sleep and Stress

We're talking about diet, exercise, what about sleep? Sleep impacts your heart in a couple different ways.

Number one, everybody is different, so we all need a different amount of sleep. Some people really need that eight hours or more, but anything under seven, you're almost operating like you're have a DUI.

When it gets closer to five hours of sleep, we're not operating at our optimal capacity cognitively or physically, and then again, how likely are we to stick to an exercise routine or healthy eating plan when we're tired, because our body starts to send these hormones out that say, "Hey, send me, give me some energy, and do it through food."

We start to take in food, have a quick spike in the blood sugar, then it drops again, and we start to eat, and we're fatigued.

And then your body's also secreting these cortisol hormones to protect you. It's always trying to protect you, going to slow the metabolism down, hold on to this extra weight, this visceral fat, because it's trying to protect you.

Lack of Sleep Leads to Stress

If you aren't going to eat and you're tired and you're sleepy, you go under all these different stress mechanisms. And that leads us to our next part of this is going to be stress. How do you handle stress?

But with sleep, we also have some ideas on sleep on some of our videos, because sleep is something to work on.

Start to set a schedule for yourself. "Hey, I'm going to make sure I try to go to bed at the same time every night. I'm going to tune out of the media."

And the media is another segue right into our next topic, stress. It affect your heart. The media and the lights from your phone all trigger the retina. The light from the phone does. You could have a hard time getting to sleep.

And the media, think about, think for a minute, how have you handled the stress of this past year? This has been something none of us ever expected, and we still don't know where it's going, so it's very traumatic and stressful.

So every time you look and you turn the television on, you see that ticker going along, hospitalizations, deaths, vaccine shortages, how is that impacting your mind, which in fact, packs everything in here? And stress, your stress can be going up.

Limit Your Concern

I used to say "time limit your worry." Now because this has been going on for so long, I say time limit your concern. Allow yourself to be updated on whatever you like to be updated on, then turn it off.

I teach meditation. I love meditation, and I realize not everybody can meditate. But that's always going to be my first response to handling my stress, or exercise.

But there are other ways to handle stress, and it can be anything that gets your mind off what's bothering you and focusing on something else. It could be a puzzle. People like to knit. Some people like these coloring books, it's very therapeutic for them. It can be a good book, a television show that takes you away from where you are. And just for that time being, you are not thinking about what is stressing you out.

So there's a lot to take in here, but the best part of this is what we have noticed, and American Heart Association, when they put out and say, "Hey, number one leading cause of death in this country, even with COVID around, is still cardiovascular disease in the United States and developing countries," that's a pretty strong statement.

And that is really all the more reason to take care of your heart. Also reminding us that even people with good genetics and, "Oh, I have good genetics, my parents lived forever." But say they still smoke, they're drinking too much, or they're not eating healthy, they're not exercising, people with a genetic predisposition to poor heart health are actually impacted better by making lifestyle changes.

They were actually able to improve their heart health. So make a schedule for yourself, try to think, what can I do for my heart this month? Let me eat smarter. Let me incorporate some movement. Let me try to think about getting some sleep, I'm rewarding my body with sleep, and detoxing from all the stress around me.