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  • Editor at NA Palm Beach

The Lifeblood of Heart Health



By Julie Peterson


When people think about heart health, what generally comes to mind is the fist-sized muscle that pumps and oxygen­ates the body’s lifeblood. However, the heart of the matter is not the pump itself, but the vascular system—the network of veins, arteries and capillaries that distributes blood to every cell in the body, deliver­ing nutrients and eliminating waste.


Each human adult harbors an astonish­ing 60,000 miles of blood vessels — enough to wrap around the planet twice. Keeping these hard-working vessels supple and open is the key not only to avoiding disease, but also to ensuring a long and healthy life.


The alternative—arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries — can slowly and silently bring on cardiovascular disease (CVD), which can result in a heart attack, stroke, vision loss and cognitive decline. CVD is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing one in four Americans, accord­ing to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By 2035, nearly half the population — 45 percent — is predicted to have some form of the disease.


“A hundred years ago, we were farm­ing the back 40 with a team of horses, eating what we grew. Kids don’t get out and ride bikes; they’re playing video games and eating crap. There’s very little doubt how we got to this problem,” says John Osborne, M.D., director of cardiology at State of the Heart Cardiology, near Dallas.


Yet, the nation’s number one killer, which can fester for decades without symp­toms, is largely preventable and reversible. Only 15 percent of CVD is related to genet­ics; the rest is attributed to lifestyle, and the right choices can make all the difference. The key is to adopt heart-healthy habits before the body delivers a potentially fatal warning.


“The initial presentation of heart dis­ease can be an acute catastrophic event that results in death in half the men and two-thirds of the women. That’s not treatable,” warns Osborne.


Know the Risk Factors

The first step toward cardiovascular health is awareness. Important indicators of CVD risk include:

  • High blood pressure (over 140/90)

  • High cholesterol (over 240 mg/dL)

  • High triglycerides (over 200 mg/dL)

  • High blood glucose (over 140 mg/dL)

  • Obesity (BMI over 30)

  • Inflammation (hsCRP test above 2 ml/dL)

  • Physical inactivity (less than 30 minutes a day)

  • Smoking or vaping (any at all)

  • Chronic stress

  • Loneliness

Any of these factors can increase the risk of CVD, but possessing a cluster of the first five comprises a condition called metabolic syndrome, which significantly increases the potential for heart disease and Type 2 dia­betes—itself a significant risk factor that can damage blood vessels, as well as the organs they support.

“While diabetes is the seventh-lead­ing cause of death in the United States, this figure belies the fact that most people with diabetes die of heart disease, kidney failure and other complications,” says Brenda Davis, RD, of Alberta, Canada, author of Kick Diabetes Essentials: The Diet and Lifestyle Guide.


Metabolic syndrome, like CVD, has few obvious symptoms and is on the rise: Nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. have it, according to the CDC. The one distinct marker for the condition is an accumulation of fat around the waistline, characterized by a measurement of over 35 inches for women and 40 for men.

Take Action to Cut Risks


“When a disease is lifestyle-induced, the only thing that can reverse it is a dramatic change in diet and lifestyle,” says Davis. “We’ve seen over and over again that it works.”


Know the Numbers

CVD flies under the radar even though it’s increasingly com­mon at younger ages. The Journal of the American Medical Association released a study in December 2019 stating that about one in four young adults in the U.S. have pre-diabetes, putting them at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes and CVD.


Lisa McDowell, director of clinical nutrition and wellness at St. Joseph’s Mercy Health System, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and team dietitian for the Detroit Red Wings, works with elite athletes of all ages and notes that they more likely know their favorite player’s jersey number than their own health numbers. “Learn what your blood pressure is, know your body mass index, get your cholesterol levels and triglycerides and your [hemoglobin] A1C.


Know these numbers early on and, if there’s a problem, fix it,” she advises.

While simple blood tests help moni­tor indicators for CVD, more sophisticated tests can be even more revealing. In 2018, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (AHA) jointly issued new guidelines for patients over age 50 to get a computerized tomography (CT) scan to determine their calcium score. The proce­dure checks for hardening of the arteries and predicts the risk of a 10-year future cardiovas­cular event.


“This identifies people who have pre-clinical atherosclerosis, regardless of risk factors,” says Osborne. “It also helps people modify behaviors, because they are faced with a diagnosis.”


Yale R. Smith, a Melbourne, Florida, M.D., who specializes in metabolic and func­tional medicine, utilizes the U.S. Food & Drug Administration-approved protein unstable lesion signature (PULS) blood test. Recom­mended for patients in their 40s, it measures inflammatory biomarkers for the body’s im­mune system response to arterial injury and provides a chronological heart age and risk of a CVD event.


“If you can show someone the future, it’s a wake-up call to make lifestyle changes to increase longevity,” Smith says.


Eat for Heart Health

Perhaps the single most important change that people can make is diet. “But a lot of people don’t want lifestyle medicine— they’d rather take a statin with their Big Mac,” says McDowell.


Preventing or reversing CVD requires diligence, but it’s largely about eating real, whole food—and mostly plants. This means avoiding processed foods and consuming less salt, trans fats, saturated fat and cho­lesterol; and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.


“There’s not an excess of blueberries in the American diet; there’s an excess of relatively inexpensive, highly processed junk foods in large containers,” says McDowell. Overcoming the urge to grab fast and easy foods requires education. “Everyone needs to learn how to read a food label and avoid foods linked to vascular disease,” she adds.


Vegans have healthier cholesterol levels in their blood compared to vegetarians, which in turn have better levels than meat-eaters. Study-verified diets that lower CVD indicators also include the Mediterranean diet, as well as two developed by the Na­tional Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet, which also addresses exercise and weight control.


“I don’t believe that one diet fits every­body, but there’s a preponderance of evidence that the more plant compounds you get, the better off you are,” says McDowell.


Some cardiovascular boosters:


  • Leafy greens flush out excess sodium and magnesium, and reduce inflammation.

  • Berries improve circulation by boosting nitric oxide, which expands blood vessels.

  • Pomegranate juice lowers blood pres­sure and reduces plaque formation.

  • Walnuts, peanuts and almonds lower LDL, the “bad cholesterol”.

  • Oily fish, chia and flax seeds with omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides.

  • Soy with anti-inflammatory isofla­vones helps dilate blood vessels. “We could eat tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame, soy beans or even organic soy ‘veggie meats’ in place of red meat,” says Davis.

  • Yogurt, kefir and other fermented probiotic dairy products help improve glycemic control, blood lipids, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Supplements can be very helpful:


  • Red yeast rice extract, much like a statin, significantly lowers total cholesterol and LDL.

  • Coenzyme Q10, a powerful antioxi­dant, lowers blood pressure and combats the side effects of statins.

  • Omega-3s in fish oil supplements reduce heart risk in healthy people and those already diagnosed with CVD risk.

  • Nicotinamide riboside improves blood pressure and arterial health in those with mild hypertension.

  • Garlic, fresh or in capsules, can lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Move It

Sitting all day and then briefly exercising doesn’t provide the same benefit as moving periodically throughout the day. Take more frequent breaks from sitting, get up to move around for a couple of minutes every 30 minutes.


Exercise strengthens the endothelium, the innermost of an artery’s three layers, and produces nitric oxide, which helps keep arteries open and healthy. Getting the blood moving lowers cholesterol and blood pres­sure, and increases oxygen and nutrients to the body.


Exercising outdoors provides additional benefits. Research from the Barcelona Insti­tute for Global Health found that exposure to green spaces helped prevent metabolic syndrome.


Stress Less, Socialize More

Spending even 20 minutes outdoors in nature can do won­ders for high blood pressure and cortisol levels, studies show.


Walking or talk­ing with a friend deepens social engagement, a key factor in lowering CVD risk: “Having the right tribe is crucial,” says McDowell. “If you’re with people who support you and make you laugh, you feel less stress.”


Walking a dog outdoors gets three cardiovascular pluses—exercise, nature and sociability, as dogs tend to be tail-wagging ice-breakers. Further, merely stroking a pet lowers blood pressure.


Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer make it easy to do meditation, which studies suggest may reduce overall CVD risk.


Don’t Smoke

Not starting to smoke or vape at all is ideal for cardiovascular health, but quit­ting allows the body to begin to heal, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease after one year by 50 percent, reports the AHA; 14 years later, the risk is the same as a non-smoker’s.


“It’s not intuitively easy to make healthy decisions,” says McDowell. “We have to learn how to make good choices.”


Julie Peterson writes from rural Wisconsin. Connect at JuliePeterson2222@gmail.com.

  • Editor at NA Palm Beach

By Kajsa Nickels


Psychotherapist Linda Carroll was drawn into the dynamics of couples’ counseling three decades ago when she saw how in her own marriage, petty disagreements could turn into full-blown argu­ments with the potential for deep wounds. She and her husband Tim worked on their issues by


attend­ing workshops across the country, including Imago therapy and PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relation­ship Skills), which were so effective that she developed a curriculum called Love Skills by combining those tools, her experience as a married person and counselor, personal training from consciousness pioneers and resources from ancient mythology and spiritual/religious traditions.


She has co-taught the course with her husband for more than 25 years. Her first book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Everlasting Love, has been translated into several languages and details stages in romantic relationships. Her new book, Love Skills: The Key to Unlocking Lasting, Wholehearted Love, is a guide to developing a relationship toolkit.


What is the Love Cycles model?

It is based on the fact that feelings of love are seasonal. Like the seasons of the year, they are a natural progression of a relation­ship. If you understand the seasons, you can pass through them. All relationships are teachers. If we allow them to teach us, we become free to love deeper and better.


What is the most difficult Love Cycles stage, and why?

Each stage has its own unique challenges. For example, the first stage, the Merge, has a magic to it due to the chemical cocktail that floods your body when in the pres­ence of your significant other. But this stage can be treacherous in that you can mistake your feelings for evidence that this is the “right” person for you. In the Power Struggle stage, feelings will have worn off and power struggles will start to show up. The third stage is Disillusionment. Differences between both of you really start to show up at this time. The fourth stage is the Decision stage. At this point, many couples find themselves wanting out. The key to mak­ing it through this stage is to remember that this, too, shall pass and to commit to working it out. It’s important to realize that life is not about getting an A+ at all times. Sometimes, we need to accept that a C- is okay; and if you do need to leave a relationship, it is possible to do it in a wholehearted way at best—at the least, to minimize damage. The fifth stage I call Wholehearted Love, a stage reached only through mindfulness and unconditional love. Because love has changing seasons, a couple will not stop at the fifth stage forever, but getting back to this state will become easier and easier as time goes on.


What was your impetus for writing Love Skills?

I have been teaching the program for 25 years and drew from my almost 40 years as a couples therapist, many trainings all over the country and own life experiences in my relationship with my husband to com­pile the program. Most couples lack the skills to manage the troubles of life. There is a skill to every aspect of a relationship, especially in communication: listening, speaking, knowing when to speak and when to be silent.


Who is most likely to benefit?

The relationship you have with yourself is a core part of the Love Cycles model. If you do not have a good relationship with your­self, you cannot have a solid and meaningful relationship with another person. This is a couples’ book, although it can also be gone through by a single person if the partner is not interested in it. What I tell people is that you can only work on your part. If the other person doesn’t want to buy in or isn’t wholeheartedly on board—or at least partially willing—there is nothing that you can do about it. You need to be able to be okay and confident in yourself. You cannot change another person, but you can always change yourself.


What is one of the most important pieces of advice you have for couples?

I hope that couples come to realize that feelings of love are like clouds, always changing. A good relationship requires a skill set, which we practice whatever the feelings are. We are not born knowing how to love skillfully, but this skill set can be learned by anyone and will make you able to listen better and appreciate each other more.


Kajsa Nickels is a freelance author who resides in northeastern Pennsylvania. Connect at FidelEterna45@gmail.com.

  • Editor at NA Palm Beach

Awakening to the Evolution of Community

by Linda Sechrist


Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion that the next Buddha would likely not take form as an individual but rather as a sangha, a community practicing mindful living, led many people to ask, “Why a community?” The author of more than 100 books that explore the Buddha’s core teachings on mindfulness, kindness and compassion, Hanh clarified the meaning of sangha as a good community necessary for helping individuals learn how to encounter life in the present moment, resist the unwholesome ways of our time, go in the direction of peace and nourish seeds of enlightenment. Even the best intentions, he noted, can falter without such a group of trusted family, friends and co-practitioners experiencing mindfulness together.


A Migration to Forming Community

Today’s trend toward collaborative processes and opportunities for transformation through online communities is made easier by the availability of affordable video conferencing providers such as Zoom, Skype and Mighty Networks, as well as online platforms like Facebook and MeetUp. Although many groups form for marketing, political, civic or social purposes—allowing participants to share values and common interests—thousands more gather as online intentional communities associated with personal growth and spiritual awakening.


Myriad individuals have been able to experience some aspect of community through international organizations such as MindValley, Hay House, the Shift Network and Dr. Deepak Chopra’s Jiyo, a wellness-focused mobile app intended to extend the reach of his ideas on health and social transformation from millions of people to more than 1 billion.


In MeetUp, spiritual awakening groups recently comprised 1,113,972 members in 3,631 groups worldwide. Additionally, co-housing communities, spiritual residential communities and eco-villages continue to form around the intention of designing and implementing pathways to a regenerative future.


The Old Story Versus the New Story

The increased interest in intentional communities may hint at a possibility that the human desire for community might be nature’s evolutionary nudge toward a collective leap that helps us to survive a changing climate and Earth’s potential sixth mass extinction. If so, this possibility needs a new supportive story that includes humans as part of nature, with its evolutionary impulse as a guide for body, mind and soul.


With our modern scientific worldview, when people talk about nature, they typically mean animals, plants, geological features and natural processes, all happening independently of humans. A more suitable new story is cultural historian Thomas Berry’s moving and meaningful narrative in The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, in which humans aren’t above nature by virtue of superior intellect, but instead are equal partners with all that exists in a materially and spiritually evolving universe. From Berry’s perspective, humans are the eyes, minds and hearts through which the cosmos is evolving so that it can come to know itself ever more perfectly through us.


Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell shared Berry’s perspective. Traveling back to Earth after walking upon the lunar surface, Mitchell gazed out of the spacecraft window, whereupon he was flooded with an ecstatic awareness. “I was a part of the universe I was observing, and I became aware that everything that exists is part of one intricately interconnected whole,” recounts Mitchell, who founded the groundbreaking Institute of Noetic Sciences to explore the nature of human consciousness.


A Guiding Light

Seijaku Roshi, the abbot and founder of the Pine Wind Zen Community, aptly named for its location in a pine forest in Shamong, New Jersey, advises,People are searching and hungering for community, which is number one on my agenda. If we aren’t talking about community, we’re squandering the moment. Whether it’s an evolutionary nudge or not, it appears that our tragic world situation is pushing us towards an alternative vision for living a meaningful life that meets the needs of people, society and the environment. We are awakening to the fact we’re interconnected, interdependent and need community, which is the spirit and guiding light whereby people come together to fulfill a purpose, to help others fulfill their purpose and to take care of one another."


Conscious Evolution

Craig Hamilton, the guiding force behind the movement known as Integral Enlightenment, is the founder of the telecourse training program Academy for Evolutionaries. His spiritual guidance and teachings reach a growing international online community spanning 50 countries. “Transforming ourselves in the deepest possible way is, in fact, an evolutionary imperative, and we need to be able to identify the indicators of emergent shifts and participate creatively with change as an evolutionary force. Evolution up to this point has been playing out unconsciously. We’re now waking up and realizing that we can collaborate and participate in an emerging future.”


Hamilton’s experience is that where humans awake to the one that is expressed through the many, they also begin to engage together. “Practicing community isn’t as simple as it seems. In online communities, a lot less can go wrong. The stakes aren’t as high. People come and go, share and engage as they like.”


A Community of Sisterhood

Laurie McCammon, author of Enough! How to Liberate Yourself and Remake the World with Just One Word, feels certain that humans are nature evolving. “We were last to the party with our big brains, and now we’re trying to intellectualize our way to an uncertain future without important feminine values such as feeling, intuiting, nurturing, interdependency and vulnerability,” says McCammon, who is deeply involved in the circle movement, in which women gather in small groups to empower each other.


A regular participant in Gather the Women Global Matrix, a worldwide sisterhood that connects thousands of women sharing meaningful conversations and celebrating the divine feminine with the intention of bringing about personal and planetary transformation through cooperation and collaboration, McCammon says, “No one of us can bring about large-scale transformation alone. It’s time to tell the new story wherein our lives and actions demonstrate that together we are enough. Non-hierarchical circles that encourage authentic communication are part of this new story.”


Citing other important circle communities such as Tree Sisters and The Millionth Circle, McCammon suggests that women tap into The Divine Feminine app, which allows them to find circle communities and events anywhere in the world.


Co-Creating With the Intelligence of Nature

Teacher and futurist Peter Russell writes books that are focused on consciousness and contemporary spirituality. His lectures help humans free themselves of limited beliefs and attitudes that belie many of humanity’s personal, social and global problems. The author of The Global Brain: The Awakening Earth in a New Century, Russell posits that the evolutionary process naturally draws humans together. “Humans are social creatures that need community, which I find very energizing,” says Russell, who cites the Findhorn Foundation eco-village, in Scotland, as a dynamic experiment in community.


“Although residents went through hard times, they recognized the need for honest communication so they could attune to one another in loving ways that would allow everyone to work through their difficulties. Today, life at Findhorn is guided by the inner voice of spirit, and residents work in co-creation with the intelligence of nature,” he says.


The Collective Wisdom of Community

An uncertain future is emerging, making it necessary for new and more intuitive methods and spiritual practices for developing collective wisdom, human potential and the skills for practicing community. “I’m in the process of finalizing 118 chapters from 90 different authors for a Collaborative Change Library: Transforming Organizations, Revitalizing Communities, Developing Human Potential,” says associate editor Carole Gorelick, who clarifies that spiritual practices are now playing a part in bringing about collaborative change. She notes that several chapters are updated versions of The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today's Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems (2007 second edition), which included modalities such as World Café, Open Space Technology, Art of Hosting, Appreciative Inquiry and many others.


A living handbook for developing human potential and the skills to practice community, Fred Eppsteiner has been teaching Buddhism for 23 years. A student of Thich Nhat Hahn since the 1960s, he is the founder of the Florida Community of Mindfulness, in Tampa. Eppsteiner sums up why the next Buddha could be a community: “A better future will be created by people who are living the values they want for the world, not just abstractly using only the intellect. In community, we ask ourselves, ‘Can I be what I want to see in the world? Can I practice these things mindfully in community with love, acceptance, deep listening, compassion and kindness?’ These are values that every Buddha has lived for centuries, and certainly ones we need to evolve from a culture of, ‘It’s all about me’ to a culture of, ‘It’s all about we’.”


Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings. Connect at LindaSechrist.com.

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