When Diamond Fernandes, founder of the Heart Fit Clinic in Edmonton and Calgary, conveys to his clients the power of yoga and positive thinking for preventing heart disease, he underlines the things they may not be aware of.
“Stress is a hidden risk factor,” he said. “One benefit of yoga is that it focuses a lot on the breath and breathing. Yoga calms the mind.”
Offering the benefits associated with the movements and mental focus that yoga provides makes sense. That's why the Heart Fit Clinic has been offering a cardiac yoga class to clients for almost 14 years.
“If you have a risk factor for heart disease, be it high blood pressure or diabetes, or have had a heart attack or bypass surgery, this is a great way to do exercise and stress management at the same time,” notes an instructor in one of the clinic’s videos.
The cardiac yoga programmers modify aspects of traditional yoga for their clients’ safety, taking into account their special circumstances.
For instance, instructors avoid positions where the head is below the hips, such as downward-facing-dog. It’s replaced with positions that keep the head in line with the pelvis, such as table pose – on hands and knees.
“Anybody who has suffered any kind of heart trauma is usually more closed off or tight through the chest, so we focus on opening up the chest and getting the shoulders back and lifting the heart,” said the video instructor.
With his team, Fernandes--a certified cardiac physiologist and educator--integrates non-invasive treatments, counselling, rehabilitation and heart-health programs.
“We focus on hidden risk factors (stress and hormonal imbalances, for example) as they relate to prevention and to improving artery function and arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat),” said Fernandes. “Research shows that cardiac yoga and meditation help people lower blood pressure and control their heart rates.”
In the study 'Yoga as Antihypertensive Lifestyle Therapy' published by the Mayo Clinic in 2019, about 3,500 middle aged participants helped show that yoga lowers blood pressure. Another study in the International Journal of Yoga (2013) reported that yoga practitioners were able to reduce heart rates using breath regulation and meditation, among other practices.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and almost 80% of heart attacks and stroke can be prevented.
Prevention starts with knowing your risk, and Fernandes' clinic offers a wide range of assessments to help clients better understand where they're at.
“A doctor will take blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but stress levels are not a number, and we know that blood pressure goes up with mental health issues,” he said. "No one thinks how cardiac yoga can relieve stress. We bridge that gap."
“The heart is a pump, but arteries have a huge role in delivering blood to all parts of the body. When an artery wall gets injured from smoking or high blood pressure, even a smaller size of cholesterol particle can now have an impact. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and stress--these also play a role in hurting the artery wall."
Though the Heart Fit clinic had been offering online cardiac yoga classes, Fernandes said clients prefer the group experience. Classes are on hold for now, and will resume when things normalize.
Meanwhile, the clinic offers a cardiac DVD to follow at home and webinars on topics from mindfulness and stress management to healthy aging.
Go to www.heartfit.ca/category/coaching-sessions/ to find out more.
Heart Disease prevention tips:
Stay active. A sedentary lifestyle doubles the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can double the chance of heart disease.
Enjoy a healthy diet. Include vegetables, fruit, whole grains and proteins.
Stop smoking and limit alcohol use.
Heart Fit Clinic: ways to prevent a coronary attack
#1 Increase vegetable and fruit intake to improve immune function and artery function. Consider a smoothie or soup to increase consumption.
#2 Reduce carbohydrates and sugar. Think of the inside of your arteries as skin, called the endothelium. What can hurt this endothelium? – carbohydrates and sugar.
#3. Sleep. Shortened sleep can increase inflammatory markers that can damage the artery wall. Sleep is a natural immune booster. Focus on routine and 7-8 hours a night.
#4. Watch less news. Watching the news every hour of the day can lead to fear, anxiety and depression. This can affect our mood which, in turn, can result in poor artery health and immune function. Fill your day with as much positivity as you can.
#5. Get active. Exercise improves our mood, heals this inside of our arteries and improves our immune system.