4 Easy, Natural Ways to Make Your Heart Stronger

Holistic heart doctor Joel K. Kahn, MD, explains how time spent outdoors can be good for preventive heart health.

By Joel K. Kahn, MD from original
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine August 2014
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    Stroll in the Sun

    Studies have found higher rates of high blood pressure among people with the lowest sun exposure. One reason may be due to nitric oxide, a gas whose production is stimulated when your skin is exposed to the sun’s rays. Nitric oxide makes arteries resist contraction, plaque, and blood clotting, reducing both heart attack and stroke risks. Vitamin D, which sunlight helps your body produce, is also linked to better heart health. Walk outdoors for 15 to 30 minutes daily.

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    Try Forest Bathing

    In Japan, visiting parks for healing has become a popular practice called shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”). Research on 280 volunteers found that people had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a reduced heart rate, and lower blood pressure when they walked through a wooded area than when they spent time in an urban one.

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    Walk Barefoot (When You Can)

    One of the consequences of modern society is that rarely is our body in direct contact with the ground. The earth has an electrical current, and direct contact with it may be a stabilizing force for good health, possibly by exposing us to electrons, which can act as powerful antioxidants. Although “earthing,” or “grounding,” is considered alternative by mainstream medicine, preliminary research shows that the practice seems to favorably affect thyroid function, blood sugar metabolism, and blood thickening, all of which affect heart disease risk. Pad around barefoot whenever possible. Let your backyard grass tickle your feet, and dig your toes into sandy beaches.

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    Trade the Gym for a Park

    Exercising outdoors may be more beneficial than working out indoors. A 2011 British review of 11 studies found that people who exercised outside generally reported more revitalization and energy and less anger, tension, and depression—all traits linked to heart attack—than those who worked out indoors.

    Claire Benoist for Reader's Digest

    Watch for: Air Pollution

    Unfortunately, many people live in areas where air pollution—which can harm your heart—is prevalent. In a recent Swedish study, higher ozone levels in the air were associated with a small increased risk of cardiac arrest. Use airnow.gov to check local air-quality conditions. The site’s rating system advises when high-risk people, such as those with asthma or heart disease, should avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors. It’s also smart to seek areas away from traffic and other sources of air pollution.

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