Taking Care of Your Heart

February is American Heart Month. This is a great time to focus on steps we can take to keep our heart healthy and prevent heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, but a heart-healthy lifestyle can go a long way to prevent heart disease. Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease. Make sure you are working with your doctor and incorporating healthy lifestyle practices to treat these conditions.  Our day to day lifestyle choices directly impact our heart’s health. Research shows that making healthy lifestyle changes, even later in life, may stop and actually reverse heart damage.

A healthy diet is one of the best weapons you have to fight heart disease.  The food you eat (and the amount) can affect other risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight. Choose nutrient-rich foods instead of nutrient-poor foods. The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that is high in fresh fruits and vegetables (variety of color), lean protein, healthy oils (Extra virgin olive oil), whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.  Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease.

This healthy diet includes:

  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice per week and limiting red meat to no more than a few times per month.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Avoiding hydrogenated oils (trans fats) which are found in fried foods and processed foods such as pies, cookies, pastries, donuts and frozen food.
  • Limiting refined sugars and carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice.
  • Sticking with water as your beverage of choice is best, as there is no benefit to adding sugary drinks.
  • Focusing on whole, natural foods and eating lots of vegetables.
  • For dessert, eating fresh fruit and saving sweets for a special treat or celebration.
  • Taking time to savor your food and enjoy your meals with family and friends.  

Regular exercise is one of the most effective tools to strengthen the heart muscle and reduce the risk of heart disease. Your heart will get stronger and healthier if you lead an active life. Regular exercise has many benefits including: burning calories, lowering blood pressure, reducing “bad” cholesterol and boosting “good” cholesterol. Aim to do aerobic exercise (“cardio”) for thirty minutes, five to six times per week.  Some examples include walking, jogging, biking, swimming or dancing. To check your intensity and make sure you are not pushing too hard, you should be able to talk but you shouldn’t be able to sing a full song. Find activities that you enjoy and start small. You can even break up your exercise sessions into 10-minute intervals. In addition, you should include strength training twice per week to build muscle and reduce body fat. To maintain flexibility, be sure to include stretching exercises (such as yoga) weekly as well. For ongoing encouragement, use an app on your phone or a wrist band that provides input on how many daily steps you have taken. Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your current exercise routine.

Focus on rest and relaxation. The effects of stress can have a direct impact on your body and can harm your heart. It’s important to have healthy habits in place to help in preventing and managing stress. When we feel stressed, we often reach for unhealthy habits to find relief, such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or overeating. These unhealthy habits lead to other factors that may contribute to damaging your heart by increasing blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar.  Find hobbies and activities you enjoy, stay social and engage with friends and family. Stay positive and ponder uplifting thoughts about the future, as optimism is good for your heart. Dedicate a certain time each day to focus on your body and relaxing. Practice stress reduction techniques and exercises such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga and tai chi. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for a healthy heart. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. Create a nightly routine to unwind and relax before bed and stick with the same sleep schedule, even on the weekends.

Working with your doctor is essential to managing your health effectively. Staying proactive with your lifestyle choices will have a positive impact on your heart and overall health.

-Diane Duvall, CLC, CHHC, CPT

Diane Duvall is a Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine.  Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine to prevent chronic disease and promote health and wellness. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Suite A, Atlantis FL 33462.  Phone: (561) 432-8935 Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook

Finding Freedom from Emotional Eating


Stress and a hectic lifestyle can affect our eating patterns and food choices.  The stress hormone cortisol increases appetite and may ramp up the motivation to eat. This can make you crave “bad” carbohydrates which will give you an energy boost followed by a crash. This will leave you hungry for more foods like sweets and fatty, salty foods. This vicious cycle can lead to mindlessly overeating and eating when you are not even hungry.  

Try these suggestions to break the stress eating cycle:

Break the cycle, don’t feed emotions with junk food. High-carb, high-fat foods trigger the brain’s feel good response, so over time we start to rely on these foods to find emotional relief.  Unfortunately, the long-term result of this habit of eating leads to more emotional distress and chronic health issues. 

It may be time to replace your current eating rituals.  If a certain time of day or certain emotions such as overwhelm, sadness, frustration or boredom trigger food cravings, try to replace that automatic response with something else.  Practice deep breathing, enjoy a cup of green or herbal tea, or recharge your body with a brisk walk or some relaxing stretches.  Take a pause and become mindful of your true needs. Automatic urges will subside when you take a minute to focus on your true desires.  Take a breath and focus on your future.  If your true goal is peace, a smaller waist, a healthy heart, or just looking and feeling your best everyday…  what is a better choice to get you there?

Find ways to relieve stress and balance your emotions without overeating.  The practice of meditation reduces stress and helps you become more aware of everything you do.  The practice can be as simple as taking just a few minutes each day to sit comfortably, tune into your breath, and let tension go with each exhalation. When you notice your mind wandering just return to your breath. Through mindfulness practices such as meditation we become more aware of internal messages and listening to our body. We can then understand when we are truly hungry and the foods that will nourish our body rather than eating on autopilot or because we feel anxious, sad, lonely or bored.

Exercise is meditation in motion. Regular exercise can reduce depression and anxiety, increase self-confidence, and relax you.  Even one session of exercise can improve your mood. Consider adding yoga or tai chi which directly combines the elements of exercise and meditation.

Make sure you are getting adequate sleep.  Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.  Lack of sleep affects appetite regulation and increases stress on your mind and body. Allow time to unwind before bed with a bedtime ritual that could include things such as reading a good novel, relaxing with a cup of chamomile tea, or enjoying a lavender and Epsom salt bath or foot soak.

Through practicing mindfulness, we will have improved health and sleep.  Mindfulness is about calmly accepting the present moment, and it leads to a state of balance. It means maintaining a moment by moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and our surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.

Nourish your body with whole foods. Consume adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates during each meal and snack.  This ensures you stay satiated and balances blood sugar levels.  Generally, this means choosing whole foods such as nuts, whole grains, raw vegetables and fruits. Avoid foods that are packaged, high in sugar, or fried.  One of the fastest ways to calm unhealthy food cravings is by eating protein.  Protein helps curb your hunger longer and won’t give you the crash that sweetened and refined foods do.

Find new comfort foods. Do not stock your kitchen with your favorite indulgence foods, the unhealthy foods you crave in times of stress. Discover healthier versions of the foods you crave and keep them on hand. If you have a craving for soda, replace this with fruit-infused mineral water.  If you crave cookies or ice cream replace this with berries and cream or an apple with nut butter.  Your taste buds will adapt, and these new comfort foods will leave you feeling satisfied and energized.

Be kind to yourself. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness practices and relaxation into your daily routine. Learn to recognize true hunger and satisfy yourself with whole, nourishing foods. These suggestions will not only help you manage stress better but will also reduce your risk for chronic disease.

-Diane Duvall, CLC, CHHC, CPT

Diane Duvall is a Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine.  Our Internal Medicine Practices an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine to prevent chronic disease and promote health and wellness. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive,Suite A, Atlantis FL 33462.  Phone: 561) 432-8935 Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook

A High Fiber Diet is Essential for Health

Are you getting enough fiber each day? With so many fast foods and processed foods in America, most adult Americans don’t get the fiber they need each day (25 to 35 grams).  Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and is a part of plant-based foods that the body can’t digest.  The fiber passes through our body keeping our digestive system healthy, keeping bowel movements regular and flushing toxins from our system.

A low-fiber diet can lead to fatigue, high blood-sugar levels, digestive disorders and unhealthy food cravings. A diet high in fiber reduces the risk of chronic health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hemorrhoids and gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).     Adequate fiber can aid in weight-loss because it adds bulk to your diet and helps you to feel full sooner.  Also, adding high fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, which tend to be low in calories, make it easier to consume less calories.

It is important to eat plant foods in their whole form because refined or processed foods are lower in fiber content. Fresh fruit and vegetable juices contain nutrients but lack the beneficial fiber of the whole fruit or vegetable. Choose whole grains, flax seeds, chia seeds, legumes, and nuts and seeds.

There are two types of fiber:  Soluble and Insoluble.

Soluble fiber:  dissolves in water and can lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol.  Good food sources include apples, avocados, artichokes, asparagus, bananas, barley, beans, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dark leafy greens, legumes, lentils, nuts, oats, pears, peppers and squash.

Insoluble fiber: absorbs water but does not dissolve in water. This bulky fiber helps prevent constipation. Good food sources include whole grains, carrots, celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, legumes, nuts and seeds.

A quick search on the internet will reveal how many grams of fiber are in particular foods we eat.  If you are not currently eating high-fiber foods, start to add fiber to your daily diet gradually and increase your water intake.  While meeting the daily recommendation for fiber intake may seem overwhelming at first, here are some tips from the Institute for Functional Medicine to increase your intake of fiber:

  • Aim to consume 5-10 servings of fresh vegetables per day.
  • Incorporate fresh, whole fruits and vegetables into every meal and snack.
  • Choose whole grain rice, breads, and pastas over products made with refined or white flour.
  • Get creative. If a recipe calls for animal protein, try making the dish with beans or legumes instead. This works well with chili, soups and stews.
  • Swap juices for smoothies, using the same ingredients. The taste will be similar, and the fiber lost during the juicing process will be blended into the smoothie.

 

-Diane Duvall, CLC, CHHC, CPT

Diane Duvall is a Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine.  Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine to prevent chronic disease and promote health and wellness.

Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Suite A, Atlantis FL 33462.  Phone: (561) 432-8935 Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook