By Tammy LeBoss,

“Nature itself is the best medicine.”   – Hippocrates.

img-00001Hello Fitness Professionals! Did you know that February is Healthy Heart month? Chances are if you’re not already working with a client with a heart condition, you will, and we want to prepare you for this. The statistics are alarming and heart disease is no joke. The good news is, according to recent studies, heart disease may be prevented, even reversible through exercise and dieting. Did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 39.5% of Americans are at risk for heart disease because of inactivity? The percentages of U.S. adults with other key risk factors include: obesity, 33.9%; high blood pressure, 30.5%; cigarette smoking, 20.8%; high cholesterol, 15.6%; and diabetes, 10.1%. Further 2006 statistics suggested that about 81.1 million Americans, or 36.9% of the population, suffered from some form of cardiovascular disease. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, cardiovascular disease has accounted for more deaths than any other cause in every year since 1900 except 1918 — the year of a deadly Spanish flu pandemic. How did our society get this to state?

Too fast and too processed

In our modern fast-paced world of processed food conveniences, what can we do to stay healthy and thwart off disease? Is our modern abundance the reason we have this problem of obesity in epidemic proportions? With toxins that are highly prevalent in our environment and in our foods, what strategies can we take to re-activate the body’s healing mechanism? The answer is: restore and heal your body through proper diet and exercise. Top nutritional science experts such as NAFC Nutrition Coach author, Dr. Bach McCloud and other leading experts support this process.

Nutrition is the key

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Does diet play a role in heart health, and if so, how? When asked: are people toxic? Dr. McCloud responds: “Absolutely, most people are extremely toxic! … Why? People are extremely toxic for several reasons, and top amongst them is that we eat (way) too many toxic foods…All foods that we eat contain toxins.”

Toxins, including those from factories, foods, jet fuels, our water supply, fish, radiation, and heavy metals can harm the heart. The problem is nowadays, toxins are nearly impossible to avoid. Although, we may not be able to control the pollution in our environment, we can control what goes into our mouths. It’s our personal responsibility to fuel our bodies with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are abundant in many plant sources. When possible, we should eat the most nutrient-rich, whole foods available. Did you know that green veggies have more nutrients per calories than any other food? But don’t forget that these greens are also high in protein. This of course, helps with muscle building and repair. In addition, according to Dr. Colin Campbell, the author of The China Study, research confirms nutrients found in plants can repress almost all kinds of diseases. This study suggests that cutting out animal proteins and adding more whole foods to our diets can actually reverse heart disease.

In your heart of hearts, what’s holding you back?

Before we get into the importance of exercise, it’s necessary to understand what actually happens during a heart attack. Did you know that more than 1 million adults a year, in the U.S. alone, die of heart attacks? When fatty tissue or cholesterol in the arterial walls build up, (this could be a symptom of poor diet and inactivity) it creates ‘plaque’. Plaque restricts blood flow to the heart, which can result in angina or heart attack. The scary thing is most heart attacks happen to people with no symptoms; when the heart is robbed of oxygen, it can’t properly function. While many people know this, they may not know that the first symptoms often occur within minutes of potential death. More and more documented cases of healthy people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with so-called ‘healthy’ cholesterol levels, are suffering from sudden heart attacks. Today, many wonder why. We advise paying attention to other variables such as – how well the body heals from inflammation, as well as how well we manage our stress levels. Every person needs to ask: how am I adapting to life’s many challenges, and what tools are necessary in supporting my body to heal and to strengthen?

The Role of Inflammation

If we want to fight heart disease, we need to learn more about inflammation. According to doctors, cholesterol and inflammation can paralyze our arteries, even within hours of eating; the lining gets inflamed and stiffens. Some doctors believe that most people are in a chronic state of low-grade inflammation. If our immune systems are healthy and functioning normally, the body possesses a remarkable ability to heal itself. But when our immune systems are weak, this makes us more susceptible to inflammation, toxins and pollutants all around us. Consequently, this negatively affects our heart, liver and other vital organs. Inflammation has also been linked to calcium deposits that block arterial walls.

Control of Stress

It’s no mystery—we need adequate levels of oxygen for healthy, high-functioning cells; we need air for survival, and stress and a lack of oxygen can affect our airways.

Exercise is defined as controlled amounts of stressful stimulus; we need these stressors in order to train, to condition our bodies to adapt in a manner that promotes repair and restoration. The key word is ‘controlled’. Here are 3 strategies to apply when dealing with any stressful life circumstance:

  1. When pushing to your limit, go as far as your breath allows you to; breathe fully into the lower lobes of the lungs as much as possible;
  2. Allow adequate resting time between sets and days;
  3. Condition the body to respond and to adapt to stress through healthy responses.

When we understand that exercise is a form of stress, as well as a cause of inflammation, we can take appropriate measures through proper dieting and exercise to ward off dangers such as illness and heart disease. Studies have also shown that the power of meditation can be an effective practice toward heart health.

More exercise means more oxygen!

While we may not have direct control over our environment or what’s pumped into our foods when we eat out, we can still take control of our bodies. It’s no news that the obesity epidemic is on the rise. Understand that body fat can block the ability of insulin to work properly; this can result in high blood sugar. This ‘plaque’ around the heart has been described by doctors as the ‘scraping of the delicate linings of the arteries’. We all know that exercise in conjunction with a sound nutritional program is key to keeping belly fat off, and this is important in maintaining heart health.

As this relates to heart health, did you know that belly fat pushes against the kidneys, which affects the liver and the heart? This inability of the kidneys to act as a ‘filtration’ disrupts the body’s ability to cleanse and to heal. Low oxygen levels, according to doctors, can also cause chest pain. Our cells are little factories that make energy. When they’re not getting enough oxygen, this can cause chest pain. Maintaining heart health is a great reason to get moving!

Getting heart to heart

Is it possible to reverse heart disease? Although leading experts say yes, the number of people dying is going through the roof, as are drug sales. People are living longer but are on meds, which do nothing for chronic long-term disease. The number of prescriptions continues to climb and drug companies are profiting. If the alarming statistics don’t wake you up to the potential dangers of this # 1 killer, then perhaps the dent in the pocketbook will. During your next consult with a prospective client, ask them this: Would you rather spend $50,000 in medical fees or $50 on monthly gym fees? The answer is simple and clear, and a healthy intervention can start right in your own home or gym today.

It’s your life: Take back control!

Fitness professionals—this month, remind your clients of the importance of the healthy heart, and teach them to take back control if they’re at risk. Educate them on disease prevention through smart exercise and nutritional strategies. What’s a better motivation than to be able to experience an increased quality of life in years to come without surgery and toxic medication? Investing in one’s health by eating real food made by nature is the best investment we can make. The freedom to move and to live life to the fullest is a gift and the only control we really have. Always remember this: Diseases do not thrive in an oxygen-rich atmosphere. This is why everyone needs to exercise. Power-up the strength of your heart today, and remember, at the core of the heart is where courage and true greatness resides–waiting to be unleashed. Everyone has access to this power through a solid understanding and application of exercise science and nutrition.

To learn more, be sure to visit The FitPro Foodie’s website at for a special NAFC-approved list of exercise and nutrition tips for the healthy heart. Learn what type of salt offers the greatest health benefits, understand the difference between “good” fats and “bad” fats, and discover a serious cooking tip for the healthy heart.