Eric Bakker N.D.May 5, 2022

A heart-healthy lifestyle is about the whole-package approach. Some people just think about eating well without thinking about how stress affects their heart, whereas others don't include any physical activity but just eat well. Our recommendations are not to fall into the trap of just focusing solely on food, lifestyle or exercise - but to incorporate all three into your healthy lifestyle. It is important to consider the whole package when it comes to preventing heart and circulation disease.


Healthy Blood Pressure Lifestyle

A heart-healthy lifestyle is about the whole-package approach. Some people just think about eating well without thinking about how stress affects their heart, whereas others don’t include any physical activity but just eat well. Our recommendations are not to fall into the trap of just focusing solely on food, lifestyle or exercise – but to incorporate all three into your healthy lifestyle. It is important to consider the whole package when it comes to preventing heart and circulation disease.

Are you STILL smoking?

Not smoking is a critical part of any heart healthy lifestyle. Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems like bronchitis and lung cancer. But smoking is also a major cause of cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease. Did you know that smoking is now considered the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and death?

Known link between smoking and heart disease

Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis — a buildup of fatty substances and plaque in the arteries. Atherosclerosis occurs when the normal lining of the arteries deteriorates, the walls of the arteries thicken and deposits of fat and plaque block the flow of blood through the arteries. We call this occlusion, and in coronary artery disease, the arteries that supply blood to the heart become severely narrowed and occluded, decreasing the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, especially during times of increased activity.

Extra strain on the heart may result in chest pain (angina) and other symptoms. When one or more of the coronary arteries are completely blocked, a heart attack (injury to the heart muscle, may occur and for almost half who experience a heart attack will die. A heart attack is otherwise known as a MI, or myocardial infarction.

Many long-term smokers end up developing peripheral artery disease, which is when atherosclerosis affects the arteries that carry blood to the arms and legs. As a result, the patient may experience painful cramping of the leg muscles when walking (a condition called intermittent claudication). Peripheral artery disease can also significantly increase the risk of a stroke.

The link between smoking and heart attack

Your risk of heart attack greatly increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke, and how long you have smoked. There is no safe amount of smoking, each puff from each cigarette is doing your circulation damage.  Smokers continue to increase their risk of heart attack the longer they smoke. Did you know that people who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers?

Are You Exercising Yet? 

Many people over 50 are simply not active enough, and to prevent heart and circulatory disease, exercise is one of the most important factors. The good news, though, is that even modest amounts of physical activity are good for your health. There is no doubt, the more active you are, the more you’ll benefit!

There are so many benefits of being physically active, it will open up a whole new life to you and will be worth it! You’ll feel great your cholesterol level will be healthier, you will reduce your chance of getting diabetes, you will be a healthy weight, have lower your blood pressure and even sleep better.

The three main types of physical activity are:

  1. Aerobic or heart and lung fitness.
  2. Muscle-strengthening or resistance training.
  3. Flexibility exercises or stretching.

You can do physical activity with light, moderate, or vigorous intensity, and the level of intensity depends on how hard you have to work to do the activity. The ultimate is to engage in the different forms of exercise to get the maximum benefit.

How long do I have to exercise for?

For major health benefits, adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity daily or about an hour of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Naturally, the best option is to do a combination of both. The more you exercise, the easier it becomes and the more you will enjoy it.

You don’t have to do the activity all at once! You can break it up into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. Running, swimming, walking, bicycling, dancing, and doing other examples of aerobic activity.

If you have a heart problem or chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about what types of physical activity are safe for you, you may need a check-up and get your blood pressure and heart rate established before you embark on any exercise program, especially if you are in your 50’s.

Heart failure patients can benefit from exercise too

Studies at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) have revealed that patients who have congestive heart failure due to a damaged heart can benefit from regular physical exercise. Your doctor may be terrified at recommending that you do any form of exercise with heart failure, but studies have shown that exercise restriction can be even more deadly, even with congestive heart failure. Heart patients who stay completely inactive often worsen their condition.

Always talk with your doctor about safe physical activities if you have symptoms such as chest pain or dizziness before you consider any exercise regime.

Ideas for activity include:

  • Swimming, snorkelling.
  • Walking the dog.
  • Vacuuming, washing windows – vigorous housework.
  • Climbing stairs instead of escalator at airports, shops, etc.
  • Getting off the bus one stop earlier than you have to and walking the rest of the way
  • Golf, croquet, lawn bowls, etc.
  • Gardening  – mowing, pruning, going to the dump, etc.
  • Join a gym/exercise group

Play with your dog

Apart from the sheer joy your dog can bring to you, consider this: The increased cardiovascular activity promotes health heart and lungs, and all that walking and quick-start/quick-stop motion not only builds muscles, but it also sharpens your “fast-twitch” muscles, which in turn influences reaction time. Furthermore, for years now studies have shown that simply stroking an animal lowers blood pressure. But if you have a dog, you know the best reason of all to play together: Time spent with a pet like a cat or a dog you love is always time well spent. Reference: “Be Happy, Be Healthy,” United Health Foundation.

Already physically active?

If you are already reasonably active physically, then why not consider some more vigorous activity e.g. bush walking, hunting, camping, rugby, cycling, jogging, tennis or squash.

Are You Relaxing Yet?

Relaxation is outstanding for overall heart health. There are different forms of relaxation we recommend, particularly T’ai Chi, meditation and yoga. Whilst there are other forms, these three techniques in particular appear to be the most beneficial.

The concept and mechanism for how relaxation protects our heart is simple: When we relax, we elicit the relaxation response, which is opposite to the stress (fight or flight) response. Once a state of deep relaxation is achieved, for example by deep breathing, our heart rate and blood pressure fall, which is largely due to stimulation of the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. Many studies have shown the beneficial physiologic effects of relaxation therapy. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Hypertension, researchers showed that patients taught transcendental meditation had significant decreases in blood pressure.

Heart disease is a problem of modern times, and many integrative medicine practitioners believe that it can be of psychosomatic origin (stress and emotional conflict) in nature. Improper lifestyle, faulty diet and negative thinking all play an important roles in triggering heart disease. Our thoughts, feelings and emotions affect our body and mind to a large degree. Negative emotions spark chemical processes throughout the entire body. Any irritation in the lining of arterial walls – which includes high levels of fat in the blood, abnormal hormonal levels, smoking and high blood pressure – all can trigger heart diseases.

Relaxation has beneficial and long lasting results

In addition, a meta-analysis of 27 studies in which patients with known heart disease were taught relaxation therapy found that this form of treatment decreases resting heart rate, arrhythmias, angina, cardiac events and cardiac death. And, not only did relaxation therapy have immediate positive results, a study examining the effect of relaxation therapy (focusing on relaxing imagery and initiating voluntary changes in posture, muscle tension and breathing techniques) on patients who sustained a heart attack had beneficial effects that were long lasting.

How can Yoga help In heart disease?

A study, in Journal of The Association of Physicians of India (JAPI)1, has established the reversibility of heart disease through yoga. Study was on angiographically proven CAD (coronary artery disease) patients, of whom 71 formed the study group and 42 the control group. And the results proved that the serum total cholesterol levels had reduced by 23.3%, disease had regressed in 43.7% and progression was arrested in another 46.5% of the patients. Some marked improvements were noticed in anxiety levels of patients. Other research has revealed that controlled yoga combining calming and stimulating measures resulted in reduced serum cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels 2.

In addition, mental relaxation through meditation by way of practicing yoga can contribute immensely in offsetting arteriosclerosis (coronary artery blocked due to the deposition of fats on the inner walls of the heart)3. Thus, owing to its many positive effects on the cardiovascular system, yoga can assume an important role in heart care4.


  1. Swami Vivekananda Yoga University (sVYASA). December 2002. Yoga: The benefits of yoga Univ. of Maryland Medical website.
  2. Minding the Body: Yoga, Embodiment, and Well-Being Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC. Retrieved 03/07/07.
  3. Textbook of Yoga – Page 545 by Yogeswar
  4. Nature Cure at Home by Dr Rajeshwari

How can Tai Chi help in heart disease?

Tai Chi (TC) is a traditional conditioning exercise in the Chinese community, and recently it has become much more popular in the Western societies. The exercise intensity of TC is low to moderate, depending on the training style, posture and duration. Participants can choose to perform a complete set of TC or selected movements according to their needs, and it is perfect for anybody with a heart or circulatory problem.

Research substantiates that TC enhances aerobic capacity, muscular strength, blood vessel function and psychological wellbeing. In addition, TC reduces some cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Recent studies have also proved that TC is safe and effective even for patients with heart disease, coronary bypass surgery and heart failure.

We highly recommend Tai Chi, and have found it to be most beneficial for many different types of heart and circulatory conditions. It is ideal to practice TC once or twice per day for half hour sessions.

How can meditation help In heart disease?


There is a firm and well established connection between stress and heart disease, and meditation lowers stress hands down. Meditation is reported to lower symptoms of depression (43%), anxiety (37%), and general distress (35%)  and significantly reduce blood pressure1.

Researchers believe that women with cardiovascular disease are more likely to feel distress than men, and high circulation of the stress hormones adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol are linked to heart disease.
Some of the most debilitating symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure are related to the respiratory system, and improving the breathing pattern has potential favorable effects on patients with heart disease.
A study examining the effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction found a significant improvement in breathing efficiency and frequency Lowered resting level of the hormone cortisol was also observed 2.

Meditation can help dilate blood vessels 

High blood pressure is a strong risk factor for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. An 8-month study involving more than 100 teenagers found that meditation helps blood vessels relax. Two 15-minute meditation sessions led to an average 21% increase in the ability of the blood vessels to dilate.  In contrast, the teenagers who did not meditate experienced a 4% decrease in blood vessel dilation over the 8-month study. Research scientist who conducted the study concluded : “We know that this type of change is achievable with statin (lipid-lowering) drugs, but it’s remarkable that a meditation program can produce such a change. This could have important implications for inclusion of meditation programs to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases and its clinical consequences.”
Meditation is frequently being prescribed as complementary treatment by doctors, particularly by doctors with an interest in mind/body.
The benefits of meditation on heart disease as well as on mental, emotional, and physical well-being, explain why so many people currently practice – and are turning to meditation. We highly recommend a daily 20 – 30 minute meditation session for those for cardiovascular disease.
  • Rosenzweig S, Reibel DK, Greeson JM, Edman JS, Jasser SA, McMearty KD, Goldstein BJ: Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus: A pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2007;13(5):36-38.
  • Robert-McComb J, Tacon A, Randolph P, Caldera Y: A pilot study to examine the effects of a mindfulness-based stress-reduction and relaxation program on levels of stress hormones, physical functioning, and submaximal exercise responses. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2004;10(5):819-27.

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