Heart disease is the number one cause of death around the world and the #1 killer of people in the United States, claiming about 375,000 lives in a year.
But despite these sobering statistics, there are places across the world where heart disease is far less prevalent, including France, Japan and Korea, and also in a traditional society found in the Amazon Rain Forest named the Tsimanes, who were found by the National Institute on Aging to Have the healthiest hearts on the planet.
Most medical problems like heart disease are complex, with emotional, dietary and lifestyle all factoring in.
But there is much to learn from the societies who protect their hearts the best, especially among Americans who still rank in the top 10 for heart disease deaths despite our highly advanced, life-saving emergency medical system.
Six Heart Disease Prevention Tips from Around the World
When it comes to heart health the little details and the actions we take on a day-to-day are what ultimately matter the most, which is part of the reason why the aforementioned countries are so heart-healthy.
Here are eight secrets of heart healthy societies around the world that you may want to work into your daily routine:
1. Walking Matters. A Lot-
The Tsimane people in the Amazon Rain Forest have lived in health for centuries while preserving their culture, language and heritage.
They surprisingly eat a high-starch, high-inflammatory diet, much like the vast majority of Americans.
Yet according to researchers, an 80-something member of this culture has the same “vascular age” as an American in their mid-50s on average.
“I was just floored by the data,” said Dr. Gregory Thomas according to NPR about his research on the Tsimane society.
For them, walking plays a huge role, as they trek approximately 7 ½ miles per day.
Walking is also a major factor in the health of heart-healthy French, Japanese and Korean people. Since we can’t always walk, do your best to get steps in wherever you are, even if that means walking around the block or your home.
2. They Take Time Out to Relax and De-Stress-
There’s a big difference between meditating, as Koreans and Japanese do, or praying as the long-living Seventh Day Adventists of California do, and the most popular American ways of relaxing (we prefer online distractions, movies, video games and other mentally distracting hobbies).
There’s no substitute for mental clarity and consistent breathing for both heart health. Stress relief takes on different forms for different people, but ultimately the key is to find something that works for you and take note of how you truly feel in your heart when you do it.
3. They Eat Fermented Foods-
Fermented foods are making a comeback in the U.S., and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Fermented foods like organic sauerkraut (Polish), kimchi (Korean) are excellent for gut health and perhaps even reducing heart disease according to Dr. Dean Ornish (as mentioned in this article from Reader’s Digest).
Fermented foods are a clear hallmark of many of the longest-living and most heart-healthy societies. As with any food, try it out and see if it works for you, in consultation with a holistic doctor.
4. Smaller Portions-
In traditional Japanese society there’s a saying, “hara hachi bu,” which means to eat until you’re 80% full.
Compare that with the American mentality of eating until everything on the plate is gone (regardless of the plate size), and you can see a huge difference.
When you slow down and eat smaller and more varied portions, you also taste and enjoy your food more. It takes time and practice to eat this way, but it’s worth it.
5. They Prefer to Stand-
Apart from simply moving and walking more, standing could also be a major benefit for heart health.
According to a Canadian Fitness survey, people who stand for most of the day had a 33 percent lower mortality rate than those who sat.
If you don’t have the opportunity to work a non-desk job, you may want to purchase an affordable stand-up desk like this one, or at least learn about the health benefits of standing while working in order to plan for the future.
6. Alcohol in Moderation-
Researchers have long wondered about the French Paradox, a name given to the phenomenon of the country’s high consumption of saturated fat and low levels of coronary heart disease.
Sociefty and lifestyle could have a lot to do with it. Many have attempted to explain it, but a diet based on Mediterranean cuisine (including high Omega-3’s from fish) and moderate consumption of red wine could play a major part.
Other heart healthy countries also enjoy alcohol in moderation, but generally don’t overdo it like we do in the U.S. at bars and clubs for the purposes of getting drunk. It’s a social custom meant to foster goodwill and cheer.
“The trick is to drink one to two glasses per day,” says Dan Buettner in his book The Blue Zones Solution, “with friends and/or food…Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers.”
Final Thoughts on Heart Healthy Nations
While many of these strategies can be helpful for heart health, it’s important to keep in mind that the way you feel and how you do things are just as important as what you do, if not even moreso, and avoiding the bad stuff like trans fats, fried foods, isolating yourself from friends and family, sitting for too long and working in a dead end job that you don’t enjoy are just as important.
Mainstream medicine still views the heart in an extremely mechanical way, but there are secrets to its power and what keeps a heart healthy that are still being unlocked, as illustrated by Baptist de Pape of the Heartmath Institute.
“The language of the heart is feeling,” de Pape said. “When you follow your heart, you listen not to your head, but to what you feel is right.”
And in a left-brain dominant, chronically overthinking modern world society, perhaps that is the most important healthy heart tip of all.
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