Wow everybody! I had a great time giving you 28 suggestions on my Facebook page for a healthier heart to celebrate February, American Heart Month. I had a request to compile them all in one place, so here goes:
1: DON’T SMOKE CIGARETTES! If you smoke make a plan to quit. Talk to your doctor if you need help, there are meds that can help. Your heart will thank you 🙂
2: Exercise! Cardio is called cardio for a reason! Sustained physical activity that raises your heart rate increases your heart’s efficiency, decreases your blood pressure and resting heart rate, and decreases your risk of heart trouble down the road. Get moving!
3: Add more fresh fruits and veggies to your plate every day! Color it up, especially red, blue and purple fruits and red, orange, yellow and green veggies. These pigments are antioxidants that help neutralize toxins. They may be helpful in slowing down damage to the insides of blood vessels that promote the growth of plaque. And they taste great!
4: Eat soluble fiber. This type of fiber binds cholesterol in the intestine and keeps it from being absorbed. It also slows the movement of food in the digestive tract, can decrease appetite and helps blood sugar control in diabetics. Good sources of soluble fiber, according to WebMD, include oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
5: Get your blood pressure checked! High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure and is easily treated. It has NO symptoms so you can’t feel when it’s high. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years.
6: Get and stay married! A study in Finland showed that unmarried men and women both had about a 60% higher risk of heart attack than married folks, and were also more likely to die of their heart attack within 4 weeks.
7: Eat nuts like walnuts and almonds for omega-3 fatty acids, plant sterols and fiber. Watch your portions though as nuts are also high in calories and fat. A portion is 1 oz (a kitchen scale is very useful) and has about 170 calories. They are great on salads!
8: Get to and stay at a healthy weight! I know, I know, but I have to include obvious stuff too, right? Obese people have a much higher risk of heart attack and stroke than those at a healthy weight.
9: Eat fatty fish at least twice a week, or take a fish oil supplement daily. Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease heart risk and also relieve symptoms of asthma, depression, and arthritis. Non-fish food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, soy and flaxseed oil.
10: Manage your stress! Stress increases the resistance of blood vessels by causing the release of adrenaline. This increases blood pressure and makes you feel anxious and, well, stressed. Over the long term high levels of adrenaline are hard on the heart, brain and kidneys. For more info about stress and ways to manage it, check this page.
11: Eat soy! Soy lowers triglycerides and has soluble fiber. The healthiest way to eat soy is as edamame (lightly steamed or boiled in the pod and eaten hot) but other options are as tofu, miso, and tempeh. Soy milk is popular too. DON’T eat them raw, and limit textured vegetable protein as this form of soy is cooked to the point of losing the beneficial isoflavones.
12: Color up your starches! Instead of white potatoes eat sweet potatoes (beta carotene), brown rice instead of white, brown bread instead of white. More fiber and more nutrition. Enjoy!
13: Take a probiotic supplement! New research suggests not only are they good for your digestion but they improve your mental health, lower cholesterol and help control blood sugar in diabetics. Check out this article for more info!
14: Be happy! There is evidence that optimism and a sunny disposition are protective of your heart and reduce your risk of heart attacks. Have a great day today everybody, and Happy Valentine’s Day 🙂
15: Eat flaxseeds! They are full of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, different from DHA and EPA which are in fish oil), high in fiber and have lignans which have antioxidant and estrogen-like effects. It needs to be ground to be properly digested. 1-2 tablespoons in cereal or yogurt daily is the suggested daily dose.
16: Drink coffee and tea! Both coffee and tea have antioxidants and other substances in them that are protective of the heart and blood vessels. Caffeine, of course, raises the blood pressure so you shouldn’t overdo it, but 1 or 2 cups daily is very heart-healthy!
17: This tip seems to have disappeared from my Facebook timeline. Oops! Can’t remember now what it was but I’m sure it was great 😛
18: Eat oatmeal! It is great for your cholesterol (hint: the oats in Cheerios are what makes THEM good for cholesterol), keeps you full for longer than cold cereal and helps, um, move the digestion along 😉 Putting honey and cinnamon on it also is good for you. Cinnamon helps control blood sugar. Honey, especially local honey, has lots of positive effects on the immune system and is low-glycemic!
19: Get a pet! Studies have shown repeatedly that pets reduce your blood pressure, reduce stress, and are protective against heart disease. Larger pets like dogs and cats have better study data, but any pet that makes you happy will help your heart. How many dog and cat parents are out there?
20: Drink red wine! Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant in red wine that seems to decrease inflammation, hardening of the arteries and heart disease risk. This is definitely NOT proven and scientists are furiously researching it. Modest alcohol intake also raises good cholesterol (HDL). Be sure to limit your alcohol intake to 7-10 drinks weekly for women and 10-14 drinks weekly for men.
21: Know your numbers! See your doctor and get your blood pressure, height/weight/BMI/percent body fat checked. Ask for an order for cholesterol labwork. Make sure they are all at goal and be open to your doctor’s suggestions for correcting them if they’re not.
22: Lift weights! No, you don’t need to look like Arnold, but lifting weights builds muscle mass which increases your metabolic rate. This in turn makes it easier to lose and maintain your weight. Which is good for your heart! BTW if you’re not familiar with weight lifting PLEASE invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer. Hurting something is NOT good for your heart 😉
23: Have kids! A study documented a 17% higher heart-attack risk in men who were childless compared to men raising kids. Not sure why, nobody seems to know, but this one should stimulate some interesting conversations…
24: Get some sun! This is a very cool 13-minute video from the TED talks where a dermatologist outlines some reasons why sunlight is good for your heart and blood pressure. And no, it’s not from vitamin D production 🙂
25: Season your food with herbs instead of salt. Decreasing sodium intake helps decrease total plasma volume (i.e. water component of the blood). When you decrease the water content in elastic pipes, you decrease the pressure inside the pipes! Normal blood pressure reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. There are lots of herb blends available to make your food tasty without adding salt.
26: Eat plant sterols and stanols! These are cholesterol-like substances found in plants that block the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract. Ideally you should get 2000 mg of them every day. They are found in nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and grains. They also have been added to margarines and spreads. There’s also a supplement form. The experts agree that getting your nutrition from food is much better than getting it from a pill. I agree wholeheartedly but getting it from a pill is better than not getting it at all.
27: Drink water! Most of your body is water, and it makes up the majority of the blood volume. Drinking water also helps flush salt out through the kidneys, combats fatigue and helps you tolerate exercise better.
28: Diagnose and treat sleep apnea! If you have sleep apnea you basically can’t sleep and breathe at the same time, so you constantly stop breathing, wake up, start breathing, fall asleep, and repeat. This puts a big strain on the heart, raises the blood pressure, and makes you feel tired and sleepy all day. If you snore and wake feeling unrested in the morning, see your doctor!
Thanks for reading along! I know this was a long one (3 times longer than a typical blog post for me!) but it’s important info. Here’s to your heart! In March we’re celebrating National Nutrition Month so if you are on Facebook feel free to like my page and follow along.