3 Easy Ways to Keep Your Heart in Tip-Top Shape

February marks American Heart Month, which could not be a better time to get serious about the health of your heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, accounting for one in every four deaths. (1) While we know that genetics play a role, heart health is largely in our control. Here are three easy ways to keep your heart in tip-top shape:

1. Get active

Aerobic exercise is one of the best things we can do for our heart. Not only does it make the heart muscle stronger, it may also help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol while helping to manage our weight at a healthy level. In fact, a reduction of just five percent of body weight, especially in overweight and obese individuals with type 2 diabetes, is associated with improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. (2)

For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association suggests at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week or 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week coupled with strength training at least two days per week. For those who could particularly benefit from lower blood pressure and cholesterol, the recommendation is 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity 3-4 times per week. Not all individuals may be approved to exercise at full capacity, so contact your primary care physician to obtain approval before doing so independently.

2. Focus on a heart healthy diet

What you should eat

A heart-healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry, fish, legumes and healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds.

Eating a variety of fish at least twice a week is recommended, especially fish containing omega-3 fats. These fats have been directly linked to heart health and may help maintain triglycerides and blood pressure within the normal range. (3) A carefully planned vegetarian diet can be heart-healthy because it is inherently low or devoid of saturated fats and cholesterol. Because a vegetarian diet excludes omega-3 fats from fish, these individuals can opt for vegetarian DHA sourced from algae through fortified foods and supplements – look for the life’sDHA™ logo. One study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association evaluated the effects of DHA from algal oil and from salmon. The results indicated that both appear to be bioequivalent in the body. (4)

What to avoid eating

Rethink your flavoring agents. Instead of salt, opt for fresh herbs and spices to season your food. Sodium is a magnet for fluid in the body. Too much sodium in the system causes the body to retain water, which puts burden on your heart and blood vessels, raising blood pressure. Individuals with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults. Sodium is hidden in many foods we eat, particularly packaged foods like frozen dinners, cheeses and breads. Fast food is especially known for having high sodium levels. The best way to avoid unwanted sodium is to make most of your meals at home using fresh ingredients.

Saturated fats should be avoided or reduced in the diet for a healthy heart. They are largely found in fatty cuts of meat and high-fat dairy. Avoiding trans-fats is highly recommended, which can be found in many packaged foods like cookies and crackers. Last but not least, cut out the sweet stuff like sugar-sweetened beverages to help keep your weight in check.

3.    Lifestyle management

Besides regular exercise and making good dietary sources, lifestyle behaviors also play a role in managing heart health.

Stop smoking:

If you a smoker, there is no better time to quit than now. Smoking is directly correlated to heart disease and stopping is one sure way to drastically decrease your risk. If someone in your household smokes, encourage them to quit since second-hand smoke can be just as damaging. While stopping can be challenging, there are smoking cessation programs that can be of great help.

Reduce stress:

A few studies have noted a link between coronary heart disease and life stress. Find healthy ways to manage stress such as regularly exercising, talking with friends and family, getting enough sleep or volunteering.

Limit alcohol:

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, increase stroke risk and lead to weight gain. If you do drink, limit your intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women.

Get enough sleep:

Ongoing sleep deprivation increases your risk of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours per night for optimal physical and mental health.

 

References

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. 2011; https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Accessed January 28, 2017.

2 Wing R, Lang W et al: Benefits of Modest Weight Loss in Improving Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2011; July.

3. Miller P, Van Elswyk Mary Van, et al: Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid and Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. American Journal of Hypertension 2014; March 6.

4. Arterburn LM, Oken HA, et al: Algal-oil capsules and cooked salmon: nutritionally equivalent sources of docosahexaenoic acid. Journal of the American Dietitian Association 2008; July.

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