The American Heart Association says that 1 in 4 deaths in this country are due to cardiovascular disease. It’s the leading cause of death for both women and men.

The good news is there’s much that we can do about heart disease other than be dependent upon medication and surgery. Just regularly take steps to implement the following proven lifestyle strategies in order to live a longer, healthier, and happier life:

1. Get adequate rest and sleep
2. Eat nutrient rich food
3. Exercise, move your body

Chronic Stress and an antidote: Deep rest

In this short blog, we’ll focus on #1 on the above list. It’s arguably the foundation to our heart health and well-being. Rest heals, and it requires little mental or physical effort. Just close your eyes. It doesn’t get easier! You don’t have to try to change or do anything.

If you’re thinking that you don’t have the time to rest, there’s something that you do not understand. We require rest to sustain the energy needed to live. Without rest, we aren’t focused, alert, or wise. Fatigue begets dullness which begs the question, Why are we so tired?

All signs point to the stress in our busy lives. Last week, a client said everyone knows that stress is bad. He was talking about chronic stress, and reflecting on his experience as a physician.

When we’re stressed, our heart rate rises, muscles tense, digestion slows, and our immune system activity is suppressed. During the stress response, the body gears up to survive threats whether they are real or imagined. Now, stress is not all bad.

The stress response could save your life if you were being chased by a tiger. Our bodies are designed to be able to handle such isolated or intermittent stress. The problem we face today, however, is that stress is chronic – it’s in our face to some degree every hour, most days.

To confirm this, watch the news, drive to work, open your email, or have a family meeting. Take notice if you heart isn’t beating more rapidly during some of these events. That’s the influence of stress. Yes, it’s good to pay attention to these influences because the negative impacts of stress accumulate over the months and years. It’s best to take corrective action proactively.

A critical step is to get an adequate amount of restful sleep daily. It is a key to a healthy heart and a happy live. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours. Yet sleep association and government statistics tell us that 1 out of 3 Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. If you are in that group, consider getting to bed earlier and learning to meditate.

Meditation: What’s the big deal?

Meditation is one of the best things we can do to improve our response to the stress in our life. In other words, we handle stressful situations more effectively when we meditate regularly. So, how do we get started?

There are many ways to meditate, and one thing is clear. Science validates its effectiveness. Hundreds of research studies done over the last 40 years document the benefits. Yet, a very relevant question arises at our meditation introduction classes “Will I be able to do it?”

If you’ve heard that meditation is difficult to do and learn, relax. The opposite is true. Some techniques involve significant effort or focus, some a moderate amount, and some no effort. So, your experience depends on the style of meditation that you pursue as well as the experience of the instructor. Having a teacher with lots of training and experience is an asset to you.

Check it out. Meditation practice is personal hygiene. We suggest you go for 15 or 20 minutes at a sitting, twice a day. If that’s too much, just 5 minutes, once or twice a day will really help over time. Then later, bump the time up if you want to experiment. Start with what is workable NOW.

The rewards are well worth the time spent. What’s more, your heart will thank you.

Greg Schweitzer, the Director of Stress Reduction Resources, teaches Effortless Meditation both on-site and online. He’s a wellness coach, and has taught thousands to meditate over the last 40 years.