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Health & Fit: ‘I’m a Cardiologist Certified in Holistic Integrative Medicine, and This Is the Morning Routine I Use to Keep My Heart Healthy’

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By now, you likely know that keeping your heart healthy is as important as keeping the rest of your system feeling good and functioning properly. But when it comes to your ticker, it certainly doesn’t hurt to get some holistic heart health advice from a cardiologist about the best ways to go about doing so. Mona Shah, MD, a cardiologist who’s also trained in holistic integrative medicine, various lifestyle factors play a role in heart health, including diet, exercise, sleep, and stress levels.

This is why looking at all the factors that influence your heart health, not just, say, cardiovascular fitness or cholesterol levels, is so important. Enter: holistic integrative medicine.

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Holistic heart health © Photo: Getty Images/PeopleImages Holistic heart health

What is holistic integrative medicine, exactly?

It’s an approach to treating the patient that’s well-rounded and informative, as it looks at the whole person when diagnosing and treating—their diet, stress levels, sleep intake, exercise schedule, vitamin intake, supplements and more, in order to decrease their risk of heart disease and other complications later in life.

“Many times patients are just given medications without really looking at the underlying causes of inflammation, blockages, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and much more, which can all lead to heart disease,” Dr. Shah explains. “There are definitely cases where we need medication, but how best to integrate these two different approaches [medication and lifestyle changes] is what I most strongly believe in.” Not only does she believe it for her clients, but she practices it herself by starting her day with specific rituals geared toward keeping her mind and body healthy.

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Dr. Shah’s morning routine to promote holistic heart health

“The morning is a great way to start habits that can set the tone for the day, as all too often we get out of bed with our list already going through our minds of all the things we need to do and stress levels begin to climb,” says Dr. Shah. “I am not a morning person at all, but this morning routine has been such an important positive change I’ve made in my life that anyone can do.”

“After I get my boys out the door to school, I have about 2030 minutes for myself before I need to get ready for work,” she says. Here’s how she spends it.

She drinks water with turmeric and lemon upon waking up

“I start with a large glass of warm water with lemon and turmeric as there are so many health benefits that turmeric provides, and drinking warm water is so soothing as the first thing to drink,” says Dr. Shah. Plus, turmeric can boost gut health and get the digestive process going, and it’s anti-inflammatory, which strengthens the immune system.

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She practices gratitude

After drinking her water, Dr. Shah writes down three things that she’s grateful for to promote feelings of positivity and prevent stress levels from rising as the day begins. “Stress itself is a huge risk factor for heart disease, so simple breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, or journaling, even if it’s for five minutes a day, helps,” she says. “Writing in a gratitude journal and showing kindness releases a multitude of ‘happy’ hormones that can lower heart disease risk. Gratitude’s been shown to improve quality of life, decrease cortisol levels, lessen depression, and improve immunity, so don’t skip it.”

Then she meditates for 5 minutes

“I take slow breaths in through my nose and usually say some mantra like ‘I am’ when I am breathing in, and I will visualize love coming into my heart before breathing out,” Dr. Shah says. “With that breath out, I might say ‘at peace’ and imagine love going out into the world.”

She Wakes Up the Body With a Short Yoga Flow

“I then do a few yoga poses, for example sun salutation, to get my body moving before I get in the shower, as yoga has a multitude of health benefits, including lowering stress levels, improving blood pressure, and improving immunity and inflammation,” she says.

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To start your day saluting the sun like Dr. Shah, see how to perform the yoga flow below:

In general, exercise helps lower heart disease risk, manage weight, lower stress levels and improves our mental state—Shah says that even just walking 30 minutes a day may boost mood, tame stress, and protect the heart. So feel free to swap yoga for any workout that makes you feel good. Bonus points if it gets your blood pumping.

She delays eating breakfast for a few hours

“I usually practice intermittent fasting so besides black coffee with a dash of Stevia, I don’t eat my first meal until 11 a.m. or noon,” says Dr. Shah.“The food we eat is the number one way to lower inflammation and heart disease risk. I am vegetarian, so the night before I will usually make overnight oats with sprouted gluten free oats and unsweetened almond milk, blueberries, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and a dash of cinnamon powder and Stevia.” More suggestions include whole grain toast topped with either avocado, chia seeds, and crumbled feta; smoked salmon and Greek yogurt; nut butter and berries; or hummus with an egg and vegetables.

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