Baltimore is home to some of the world’s thought leaders in health and medicine. One local organization at the forefront of innovation in healthcare and holistic health is the Institute for Integrative Health.
The Institute’s mission is to create a wellness and medical model to shift society’s focus from managing disease to promoting health. Their approach aligns with mine, as I strive to offer hope that we can be well and feel better, that health and vitality can become the new normal. It’s been a privilege to serve as one of their health educators and instructors over the past year or so.
For the Institute’s most recent healthy happy hour, Dr. Michael Miller, a preventive cardiologist, and his wife and podiatrist, Dr. Lisa Miller, facilitated a discussion about how to heal the heart. At the happy hour, I provided samples of my popular Love Your Heart trail mix before heading into the main room to listen to the Millers’ presentation. (Shout out to my favorite grocery store and cafe, MOMs Organic Market, for generously sponsoring the trail mix! If you haven’t been to their Naked Lunch cafe yet, it’s well worth going and is one of my favorite heart healthy lunch spots in town.)
Aside from being an internationally recognized leader in the field of preventive cardiology, Dr. Miller has written the best-selling book, Heal Your Heart, which is the top-rated book on heart disease on Amazon out of over 1,000 books.
Included in the book are Dr. Miller’s Positive Emotions Prescription, over 100 recipes (that I can’t wait to try!), and practical tips to heal your heart and optimize your health and wellbeing. All proceeds from the book go to the American Heart Association.
Dr. Miller opened his talk with insights from centenarians – people who have lived to be over 100 – and identified their secrets to longevity. It’ll make you smile (and the simplicity of their advice may surprise you!):
During his talk, which served as a preview for a four-week coaching series he and his wife will be teaching in the fall, Dr. Miller pointed out the main risk factors for heart disease and what we can do to heal our heart and reduce the likelihood of succumbing to a disease that affects millions of Americans each year.
Most of us are aware of the main risk factors for heart disease and heart attack – smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Dr. Miller touched on those but spent the bulk of his time focusing on the impact of two lifestyle factors – stress and what we eat.
Our bodies were designed to respond to acute stressors (like being chased by a tiger), but most of us are in a state of constant stress these days – one that never seems to shut off. If I had to identify one aspect of my health that I want to transform, it would be how I handle stressful situations in my life and making more time for rest, play and relaxation.
One of the comments Dr. Miller made that stuck with me was that chronic stress is the same as cellular aging; stress advances the aging process. Even if we’re eating healthy food, exercising regularly and not smoking, this one factor – stress – can undo a lot of the helpful things we’re doing. That’s how powerful stress is.
Dr. Miller shared the story of a former cardiologist colleague of his who passed away from a heart attack in his mid-50s. The stress that accompanied a new, more demanding job on the other side of the world was too much for his heart to handle and ultimately took his life decades too soon.
So, what can we do? What are some simple and effective things we can do to help heal our heart? Here are three tips Dr. Miller shared:
1) Add Mind-Body Exercises to Your Daily Routine
Research has shown us that these exercises down-regulate our body’s pro-inflammatory genes, which is exactly what we want to happen! Taking time for ourselves can be challenging, as we may feel selfish, but if we want to be well, self-care is non-negotiable. Here are some ideas for mind-heart exercises to try:
- Listen to music you enjoy.
- Meditate. Try the Headspace or Calm apps on your phone. They are great guides!
- Practice yoga. My favorite YouTube channel for yoga is Yoga with Adriene.
2) Watch a Funny Movie or TV Show
Dr. Miller shared some fascinating research about the blood vessel constriction that happened to a group of participants who watched the harrowing, stress-inducing opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. He compared it to the blood vessel dilation that happened when they watched comedies that made them laugh like Shallow Hal, Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary.
After just 15 minutes of laughing, volunteers experienced the same vascular benefit they’d experience from spending 15 to 30 minutes in the gym or from taking a daily statin medication to lower their cholesterol.
Not only that, but the blood vessel expansion lasted for up to 24 hours! Get a good laugh in in the morning, and the positive benefits could last the entire day.
We all agree there are still plenty of benefits to exercising, so keep up your daily movement routine, but don’t downplay the importance of a good laugh.
Need another excuse to watch The Office (my favorite!) or your other favorite funny TV show, movie, or YouTube videos? Permission granted! It’s good for your heart 🙂
3) Fuel Your Body with Heart-Healing Foods
In his book, Dr. Miller lists the top 50 foods that affect heart health and mood. To add an interactive component to the presentation, his wife, Dr. Lisa Miller, made a delicious raw blueberry cashew gelato topped with mashed peaches and a sesame cookie.
A few of the top 50 foods were cinnamon, ginger, peaches, vanilla, cashews, blueberries, maca powder, and sesame seeds. Here are some simple ways to incorporate these foods into your day:
- Add 1/2 tsp CINNAMON to your coffee each day. Cinnamon has been shown to lower triglyceride levels (that’s the fat in your blood). and inhibits a protein connect to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
- Add GINGER to smoothies, use it to make your own tea, and try these delicious ginger energy bites. It reduces plaque buildup and improves mental performance. It also promotes healthy digestion and settles nausea!
- Enjoy all of the delicious PEACHES that are in season. Peaches are high in antioxidants and other heart-healthy minerals. Mash them up in a mason jar, stir in some cinnamon, ginger and vanilla and add them to overnight oats or use them as a topping on ice cream, as we did that night.
- Enhance flavor (and your libido!) with VANILLA. It has been show to reduce inflammation and has high antioxidant activity. To avoid the alcohol content and bitterness of most liquid vanilla extracts, opt for the powdered version from Nielsen-Massey. We add it to smoothies, ice creams, and most of my energy bites!
- CASHEWS served as the base of the ice cream we made. If you don’t eat dairy (all recipe on this blog are dairy-free!), cashews add a creamy consistency to everything from cheesecakes and smoothies to soups, cheese sauces and dips. They are high in antioxidants and lower the risk or macular degeneration.
- In addition to being packed with antioxidant and blood sugar regulating components, BLUEBERRIES inhibit cortisol – the major stress hormone that runs rampant under chronic stress and adds weight to our bellies. Dr. Miller has a large handful of blueberries every day and swears by their eye health-promoting properties!
- MACA powder is derived from a Peruvian radish and has a malt-like taste that I absolutely love. I toss it into smoothies and my chocolate bark and find it pairs especially well with chocolate. It’s known for being a hormone-balancing food and has high antioxidant and blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose-lowering properties. This is the kind of maca powder I order on Amazon.
- SESAME SEEDS help regulate blood sugar and contain cholesterol-lowering compounds that protect our heart. Enjoy the seeds themselves and try tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds that we use to make salad dressings super creamy! You can find it in the international aisle of the grocery store. Trader Joe’s just started carrying it, too.
Dr. Lisa Miller’s raw cashew blueberry gelato combined several of those delicious ingredients, and I will share the recipe for it (and her sesame tahini cookies!) in my next post.
In the meantime, here are a few action steps to take if you want to keep learning more about this topic (and spend more time with the Millers and me):
- Buy Dr. Miller’s book, Heal Your Heart, on Amazon by clicking here.
- If you want to be part of Dr. Millers’ Positivity Challenge Coaching Program in the fall, click here to learn more and register.
- Leading up to the Millers’ challenge, I will be teaching a two-part cooking class series about healing foods that you won’t want to miss! Click here to learn more and register.