Why The Tsimanes Have the Healthiest Hearts and You Don’t, Part 2: The 3 Part Plan For Your Bulletproof Heart
Build a bulletproof heart by following the example of the Tsimane to avoid the heart disease that more than a third of us will experience in our lifetimes. Read on and watch the videos.
THIS SECOND of a two-part series examines why the people with the world’s healthiest hearts belong to a people living on a tributary of the Amazon River in Bolivia called the Tsimane.
Part 1 presents some startlingly good cardiovascular test results of the Tsimane, such as:
- 85% had no evidence of calcification in their arteries.
- Nearly none have any evidence of clogged arteries.
- Tsimane men have lower coronary artery calcification scores than Japanese women, a population previously regarded as having the lowest coronary artery calcification scores reported for any ethnicity.
These cardiovascular metrics are unprecedented in any other population studied. The researchers who made this discovery wondered why. To find out, all they had to do is examine the Tsimane lifestyle.
Generally speaking, you might give a hoot about an obscure tribe living in Boliva, but in this case, by example, the Tsiamne are throwing out a lifeline to you.
Let’s dig in…
Why Our Hearts Are In Trouble
In Part 1, I used bar chart that to show how heart disease become much more prevalent as we age, leading to 32% of the female and 42% of the male population in the U.S. with heart disease by age 75.
This happens to people in the industrialized world because we no longer eat real food, we don’t move our bodies enough and we’re very, very stressed.
We do the opposite of the Tsimane people:
- Their diet is plant dominant, whereas we eat lots of fast, convenient manufactured food.
- They constantly move, whereas we sit all the time – to and from work, at work and whilst watching TV (an average of 5 hours per day for Americans).
- The simplicity of their lives and the intimacy between the people dramatically reduces stress, whereas our lives are hectic and infused with stress.
If you want to build a bulletproof heart, you need to adopt a lifestyle more akin to the Tsimanes. Simply put, that means:
- Scrap the fast, processed, packaged foods, and instead eat foodstuff that looks like it did when grown on the farm;
- Get off that chair and couch and move regularly and with gusto; and
- Reduce your stress.
Let’s begin with stress and then explore diet and movement.
Stress can break your heart
We think that it’s unrequited love that can break your heart. When we say that it’s meant metaphorically — but in reality our hearts can, in effect, be broken by chronic, unrelenting stress.
NBC News picked up this story, as reported by Marilyn Marchione of the Associated Press, who writes that:
“New studies have found higher rates of cardiac problems in veterans with PTSD, New Orleans residents six years after Hurricane Katrina and Greeks struggling through that country’s financial turmoil”.
What the people in each of those situations have in common are the prevalence of “fight or flight” hormones that affect blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as provoke anger and helplessness, and spur heart-debilitating behaviors like excessive eating or drinking.
This connection between emotional strife and cardiovascular risk is undeniable.
Least you think that PTSD is solely an issue for combat veterans, consider these findings cited by Ms. Marchione:
- Nearly 8 million Americans have PTSD, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates, which include those who suffer trauma such as being raped, robbed at gunpoint or in a serious accident, or were survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
- Among the people of southwestern Greece, there were 1,084 heart attacks in the four years after that country’s financial crisis compared to 841 in the four years before it, even though the population and its demographics remained the same. That’s a 29% increase in just four years!
- Heart attack incidence rose 40% among women, who have higher unemployment rates than men and tend to be more responsible for child care — a double burden of stress.
Stress that begins in your brain can result in heart attacks and strokes
Ever hear about the part of your brain called the “amygdala”?
The nut-sized amygdala is referred to as the fear center in the brain, but it’s linked with various forms of stress, not just fear.
Check out this picture, brought to you by The Lancet and Maggie Fox at NBC News:
Two people given the same stimulus can produce two very different reactions in their respective amygdala. People whose amygdalas seemed more active during brain scans were more likely to have:
- A heart attack, stroke, or other serious heart event over the next three to four years;
- More inflammation in their arteries — something that’s clearly linked with heart disease; and
- Bone marrow activity that may be linked with blood clots.
Clearly, stress messes with your heart!
If your life is dominated by stress, you need to do something about it. More on that in a bit, but first let’s take a look at the foods that are antithetical to a bulletproof heart.
Common foods you eat increase your risk for heart disease
Returning to Maggie Fox (and NBC News), she reports that just 10 foods account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths in the U.S. That’s rather stunning.
Check out the video below, which begins with this amazing assertion:
Half of the deaths from disease are associated with poor diet which has surpassed tobacco smoking as the number one cause of death and disability in this country.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian
I’ll do deeper into food — the right food for a bulletproof heart — later. Suffice to say here:
- Eat less red meat, particularly processed meat;
- Consume less sugar sweetened beverages; and
- Use less salt — in fact, just use sea salt, such as Himalayan Crystal Salt.
Once you’re eating and drinking to nourish your body as opposed to denigrating it, you just might have enough energy to move more.
Sitting is the new smoking
I waded into the deep waters of this topic with the article, 6 Ways Sitting Will Kill You, Even If You Exercise, where I began with these sobering statistics from the World Health Organization (“WHO”) (1,2):
- Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death worldwide.
- Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
- One-in-four adults, and 80% of adolescents worldwide are not active enough.
Enough to make you leap from your chair and so sprint up a hill, yes?!
Well, the good news is you don’t have to take it quite that far if the objective is a bulletproof heart. What you do need to do, however, is move more… probably, a lot more.
The 3 Part Plan For Your Bulletproof Heart
At this point, I hope you’ve got the correct impression that to get a bulletproof heart like those that slowly pump in the chests of the Tsimane people, you need to:
- Reduce your stress;
- Eat more fruits and veggies, etc.; and
- Move a lot.
This the nexus of a three part “bulletproof heart plan”.
Part #1: Reduce Your Stress
The aim here is to calm down your amygdala.
You need to become one of those people who when stuck in traffic turns up the music and sings out loud, rather than lean on your horn whilst spitting invectives.
You need to become one of those people who recognizes when you’re awash in stress and mindfully do something about it.
This “something” needs to be preordained and practiced, such as the 4x4x4 technique taught to the U.S. military, or by simple meditation made vastly more able and effective by listening to Isochronic tones and binaural beats.
While you may think that bumper-to-bumper traffic is terrible, it doesn’t hold a candle to the stress of war. When soldiers are in a stressful situation — like when bombs are exploding nearby and bullets are whizzing past their heads — they can be more effective dealing with the mayhem if calm. Getting to that calm mind state is the role of the “tactical breathing” technique taught to these combat soldiers.
When you encounter a stressful situation, do this:
- Put your stressful thoughts on hold.
- Inhale through your nose for a count of 4 as you expand your lungs, belly and back — your whole core.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4.
- Exhale through your nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 4 and repeat until you’re centered and calm.
You will be unable to do this if you’re zig zagging around, whether in your mind or physically, and that’s the point — slow down, get calm, focus.
The other thing you can do to calm down that overactive amygdala is to cultivate a meditation practice.
You need not be clothed an saffron robes, or sit in the lotus position. Simply sit somewhere with your spine erect and either focus on your breath (you can practice 4x4x4) or focus on a symbol or image, or replay a made up movie in your mind of something that brings you peace.
Your meditation practice can be made much more effective by listening to Isochronic tones and binaural beats, two brain entrainment technologies that will let you meditate like a monk in 20 minutes.
You can find many sound tracks of these brain entrainment sounds on Youtube.
I wrote about this in Meditate Like A Monk In 2o Minutes, which I was doing when someone snapped this pic of me:
As I wrote in that article,
“The good news is that mediation reduces stress and depression, and can thereby have a salutary effect on telomerase and telomere length. Among many other scientists, UCLA’s Dr. Michael Irwin, UCSF’s Dr. Dean Ornish, and Dr. Blackburn have conducted research indicating that meditation can improve telomerase activity and increase telomere length.”
The “telomore length” mentioned in the above quote has to do with lifespan, and I heartily recommend that you read the article for more on that, and more.
My parting comment on reducing stress through mindfulness (the 4x4x4) or meditation is to say that once you tackle stress, this whole bulletproof heart plan gets a lot easier to accomplish, because when stress is dominant in your life, it’s hard to add good things to it.
Part #2: Eat more fruits and veggies, etc.
If you’re someone who eats a lot of fast food because you like it, or you’re so busy (stressed) that you have no time to cook, or you don’t know how to cook, or you’re lazy, or you simply just don’t know what to eat that’s healthy, then try the following.
Substitute one thing at a time — change out the coke for lemon water, the hamburger for salmon, the bagel for seeded whole wheat bread, the cookie for yogurt.
The renown Cleveland Clinic recommends these 15 heart healthy foods:
- Eat fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and trout.
- A handful of healthy nuts such as almonds or walnuts will satisfy your hunger and help your heart.
- Berries are chock full of heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Try blueberries, strawberries, cranberries or raspberries in cereal or yogurt.
- Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and phytoestogens to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit.
- Oatmeal: the comfort-food nutrient powerhouse.
- Dark beans,such as kidney or black beans, are high in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals and other good stuff. Veggie chili, anyone?
- A 4-ounce glass of red wine (up to two for men and one for women per day) can help improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
- Try marinated tofu in a stir-fry with fresh veggies for a heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
- Red, yellow and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and acorn squash are packed with carotenoids, fiber and vitamins to help your heart.
- Popeye was right – spinach packs a punch! Use it in sandwiches and salads instead of lettuce.
- Fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes and papaya are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium and fiber.
- Tender, sweet asparagus is filled with mighty nutrients such as beta-carotene, folate and fiber, and only provide 25 calories per cup, or 5 calories per large spear.
- Tomatoes – even sun-dried varieties in winter months – provide lycopene, vitamin C and alpha- and beta-carotene.
- Dark chocolate is good for your heart health, but just be sure that it’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
- Crisp, fresh broccoli florets dipped in hummus are a terrific heart-healthy snack with a whopping list of nutrients, including vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium and fiber.
Get a really good blender and become a smoothie junkie — Experiment with different ingredients, such as spinach, red cabbage, kale, protein powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds, keifer and almond milk. Blend it up and sip it mindfully and gratefully.
I can’t emphasis enough the value of a high quality blender that can emulsify nearly any foodstuff put into it, because you then can be free of trying to figure out how to make a meal from such foods and superfoods. For instance, BeHealthy lists five superfoods that, as the article says, “keep your heart pumping for a long time.” But how would you prepare superfoods such as acai berries and the fibrous gum acacia along with a regular meal? Not so easy. Buy yourself a good blender.
The next thing to consider is to buy Matt Frazier’s new cookbook, The Nomeat Athlete Cookbook. I’m not conspiring to make a vegan out of you, but you probably already know how to cook pasta and meat, and aren’t familiar with the cornucopia of simple vegan and vegetarian recipes that will help you build a bulletproof heart.
Matt will show you the way.
Change your eating habits step by step and soon you’ll get to the promised land, and your heart will thank you (as well as the rest of your body).
Part #3: Move Often (very often)
If you need a bigger push than I’ve here provided to push away from the desk and move throughout the day, and if my sitting is the new smoking article is unconvincing — then check out these two articles from the New York Times:
What you’ll discover is that even exercising regularly three or more times a week is insufficient. I know — that statement borders on the sacrilegious, and when I first learned about it, I felt demoralized.
The bottom line, again, is that we need to function more like the Tsimanes and other indigenous people who still live traditional lives. They move all the time. That’s the key — to move frequently throughout the day.
The plan for Part 3 for your bulletproof heart, then, is to set a timer for every hour during which you’re mostly sitting. When it chimes, stand up and move vigorously for a minute or two.
Here are some options:
- Do push-ups for one minute and squat for one minute.
- Do one or two minutes of burpees.
- Walk up stairs.
- Do jumping jacks.
- Do Sean Croxton’s two minute challenge.
What these movements have in common is that they use multiple, large muscles which quickly tax your body such that one or two minutes is sufficient to get your heart beating and lungs heaving.
Do that, then go back to the couch or the desk till the chime rings in another hour. Then you do it again.
Go to How An Exercise Mindset and A Few Minutes Can Make You Ageless for more short exercise ideas, and to How To Get Lean and Muscular, Part 2: Move Your Body for specifics about how to do the exercises.
Remember these four things:
- Indigenous tribes — like the Tsimane — that have maintained their traditional lifestyle, eat real food (rather than adulterated, packaged food), move a lot and experience little stress have bulletproof hearts.
- If you don’t want to be an old fart with a weak heart, you need to be more like the Tsimane, which means you need to reduce stress, eat real food and move a lot.
- Substitute processed meals with smoothies having the ingredients listed above.
- Learn to be mindful about stressful situations, and employ the 4x4x4 technique, as well as practicing meditation, made easier and more effective by listening to Isochronic tones and binaural beats that you can find on Youtube.
The best time to start is now, so choose something to begin with and get going on building your bulletproof heart!