Heart Healthy Tips To Keep Your Ticker in Top Shape

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February is National Heart month, a special time for all you HeartGeeks out there.  The heart get’s it’s own month for a very important reason, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

On a positive note, you can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease. To lower your risk:

  • Get active and eat healthy.
  • Watch your weight.
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

For more information, read this guest post by Miranda Hammer who blogs at http://www.northwestpharmacy.com/healthperch/healthy-heart/

Diet, exercise, lifestyle, and genetics all have an impact on cardiovascular health. To optimize overall wellness and protect yourself against stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure, consider integrating a few of these heart-healthy tips into your daily regimen.

Cut the Salt

Excess salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, an elevation in blood pressure can cause damage to the arterial walls, increase the accumulation of plaque, and block blood flow. Salt intake isn’t limited to a sprinkle here and there at the table. Processed foods, restaurant meals, and fast food feature high amounts of sodium. In order to decrease salt intake, read food labels and reduce consumption of packaged and pre-made food. The USDA’s recommendation for total daily salt consumption is 2.4 grams, which is about one teaspoon of table salt. Try cooking your own meals and swap salt for other seasonings such as garlic powder, oregano, or paprika. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and purchase items with no salt added.

Be Active

The National Institute of Aging recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity on most or all days of the week. This regimen is ideal for protective cardiovascular benefits. Intimidated by CrossFit or a spin class? Consider a brisk walk, gardening, or even bowling to keep you moving. Don’t have a 30-minute block of time to spare? Break up the physical activity into 10-minute intervals. Make sure to consult your physician before initiating a new workout program.

Lose Weight

Packing on too much weight can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. Extra fat around the midsection poses the highest risk since it is in close proximity to internal organs. Start integrating a healthy lifestyle rich in whole foods and physical activity to reduce weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death. Smoking causes plaque to build in the arterial walls, which could lead to stroke or coronary heart disease. It is never too late to stop and reap the benefits of a smoke-free life. Try cutting back one cigarette a week until you are smoke-free. Introduce new activities and experiences that were previously a challenge as a smoker, such as sitting through a play or a movie, picnicking in the park, or spending quality time with children and pets.

Manage Your Stress

According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can have long-term physical manifestations. Stress-related anger can lead to heart arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, and damaged arteries. Reduce stress by taking control of your mind and body. Prioritize sleep and exercise. Organize your schedule, take time to relax, limit negative relationships and situations, and integrate deep breathing and relaxation exercises into your daily life.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Adopting a whole food, plant-based diet has been linked to lowered blood pressure and cholesterol as well as weight loss and weight management. A plant-based lifestyle is primarily rooted in foods from the earth. Dark leafy greens, herbs, root vegetables, fruits, legumes, avocados, nuts, seeds, and a variety of whole grains all encompass a plant-based diet.

Maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides fiber, which aids in digestion and lowers cholesterol while supplying essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim for a colorful variety of organic and local produce when possible. If that is not an option, opt for frozen produce that is salt-, sugar-, and preservative-free.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the diet and are key components for boosting cardiovascular health. They increase HDL (the good) cholesterol in the body and reduce triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, ground flax seed, and dark leafy greens. When selecting fatty fish, choose sustainable and wild options over farmed and endangered.

Other heart-healthy fats include monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, olives, avocados, and nuts. These fats assist in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.

A comprehensive heart-healthy diet is limited in processed, fast, and frozen foods. Consume alcohol in moderation, and limit sugary foods and beverages. By making small, manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can easily improve your cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

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Love Improves Heart Health

valentinesSatisfaction may be elusive on this Hallmark holiday, but heart health isn’t.  According to Dr. Cynthia Thaik, a Harvard-trained cardiologist, to have optimal cardiovascular health, your emotional and spiritual heart is just as important as your physical heart.

I recently stumbled upon Dr. Cynthia’s site and must admit I am both intrigued and terrified by her approach to heart health. She encourages her patients to think about heart health holistically – body and mind.

As you likely guessed, it’s the mind part that terrifies me. After all, I am a guy. I have the nutrition and fitness parts pretty well down. However, I am still quite mental and avoid introspective thoughts like the plague. In a moment of weakness, I just purchased her book. I will let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, Dr. Cynthia offers up a number of ways love can improve your heart health:

  1. Love improves self-esteem, which leads to better self-care. Can’t you go blind from too much self-care?
  1. Love is a great antidote to stress. Love encourages your body to produce oxytocin, the “feel-good” or “love” hormone. You hear that Rush Limbaugh oxytocin, not OxyContin (cabbage).
  1. Love decreases anxiety and staves off depression, which subsequently reduces the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Fine line here – ask any married couple.
  1. Love decreases inflammation, improves your immune system, and can be a potent pain reliever. This is based on a recent study at Ohio State that showed that people who are lonely develop more viruses than those that are well connected.  But be careful, those that are well connected are more susceptible to transmitted diseases!
  1. Sleeping next to someone you love makes you feel more relaxed, which helps you to sleep better. What if there are 40 pillows piled between you and your spouse?

Bottom line, love is important. Doesn’t matter if it’s love of someone, something, or yourself. Find something to love and improve your heart health. It’s that or a bunch of melted chocolate and a magic moneymaker.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

References:

Thaik, Dr. Cynthia. “Love Heals!” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.

Best Heart Healthy Diets for 2015

mediterranean dietThe US News & World Report has issued their 2015 ranking of best diets. Not surprisingly, fad diets (think Paleo or any type of cleanse diet) did not fare too well.   Those diets that did fare well focus on healthy eating – plain and simple.

The top five heart healthy diets will help you lose weight and lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. A few of them are even palatable – more on that in a bit.

Here are the five best heart healthy diets:

  1. Ornish Diet
  2. TCL Diet
  3. DASH Diet
  4. Mediterranean
  5. Engine 2 Diet

All of these diets are great and will provide cardiovascular benefits if followed appropriately. However, a couple of them are vegan. I am not ready to become a vegan.

Less Fattening, Tastes Great

Mediterranean Diet – By far the best diet if you actually enjoy eating a variety of foods that taste good! This diet features healthy doses of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil and herbs and spices. Fish or seafood is your main protein.

You are also allowed, poultry, eggs, cheese and (yogurt in moderation). The best news, sweets and red meat are not off the table. The key to eating the Mediterranean diet is how often and how much of each.

Like the other heart healthy diets, foods from plant sources are prominently featured. Unlike the other diets, you get to indulge in a greater variety of foods. Check out the Oldways site for guidance and recipes.

Balanced and Heart Healthy

Dash Diet – The Dash Diet is not only good for your heart, it is the #1 healthiest diet on the list. The diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and is focused on reducing blood pressure.

However, like the Mediterranean, Dash is a lifestyle diet. A guide to getting started can be found here.

TLC Diet – The TLC (Total Lifestyle Change) diet is endorsed by the American Heart Association. This is a low fat diet designed to help you lower your cholesterol. It is also the #2 ranked overall health and # 2 heart health diet. Saturated fat is a no-no and red meat is highly discouraged. However, if you are a high-risk heart patient, this may be the one for you.

Finally, the Vegan’s

Ornish Diet –The claim here is scientific proof to make you “feel better, live longer, lose weight and gain health.” In order to realize all this, you must go vegan. However, the Ornish program is more than just nutrition. The Ornish Spectrum also covers exercise and lifestyle. Check out the full program here.  It’s a committment!

Engine 2 Diet – This is a whole foods diet designed to reverse diseases, including heart disease. A very healthy lifestyle choice with one significant drawback; no animal products whatsoever. I repeat, no animal products whatsoever.

The common element to each of these diets is healthy eating, not weigh loss.   Combining any one of these eating plans with a decent amount of physical activity will greatly improve your overall health.  Which one are you choosing?

Photo credit: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Why You Will Not Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

new year's resolutions

Most people resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, or get fit at the start of a New Year. These are all great resolutions, particularly for a HeartGeek. However, if you are like 92% of American’s, you are going to fail!

Don’t worry, it’s not your fault (never is). Resolutions are a setup. They don’t require follow through. Anyone can declare his or her good intentions. Even easier after a few cocktails on New Year’s Eve.

Then we sober up and realize it’s hard to lose weight or quit smoking. Game over. We really do want to achieve those things; we just don’t have the ability to commit, to stick with it. Why not?

Why We Fail

The root of our failure may be focus. Meaning, we are focused on the wrong thing. Instead of starting a new diet in January or resolving to lose 20 pounds by beach season, how about just focusing on being healthy.

That’s what Sandra Aamodt recommended during her TED talk last year. She begins her talk by telling us she gave up dieting as her New Year’s resolution and lost 10lbs as a result. Take a look at the entire (12 minutes) talk below.

If you hung in there, you likely heard that when it comes to losing weight, our brains are working against us. A bunch of research tells us the brain does not handle dieting well. That’s why we have to stop dieting. Instead, get healthy.

How To Succeed

You likely also heard what you already knew – eat right, exercise, and eliminate (or moderate) unhealthy habits. It turns out that healthy people are better able to control their weight and live longer than unhealthy people.   Shocker, right?

So instead of chasing a lower number on the scale or pure abstinence, try the following:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  2. Eat whole grains
  3. Reduce red meat
  4. Reduce sugar
  5. Avoid processed foods
  6. Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3x per week (go for 5, it won’t hurt)
  7. Quit smoking (that’s the only extreme one here)
  8. Reduce alcohol intake
  9. Reduce stress (deep breathing, yoga, etc.)
  10. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night

Give that a go for 6 months and see how you feel. There’s a good chance that you will have lost weight without even trying!

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

HeartGeek Year In Review

2014I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.  I am in vacation mode – which means I am being lazy and not writing new posts.  Seems like a good time to look back on this past year’s most popular posts:

  1. My Favorite Heart Health Gadget – My first gadget review. The Alivecor is a portable device that provides a real-time electrocardiogram (ECG) on your cell phone. Another favorite is the Basis Peak fitness watch.
  2. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass – It’s good to see an interest in exercise. This post provides strategies to get moving and stay motivated.
  3. Exercise After 40? It’s Not Too Late! – More of a reference than a post. Provides a link to a study that found starting exercise at 40 has the same heart benefits as starting exercise earlier in life.
  4. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Stop Eating Crap – A post describing my experiments with different diets and a top 10 of what really worked.
  5. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Simplify Your Life – Tips for getting rid of the unhealthy habits and distractions and focusing on what is important – your health!

Those were the most read posts this past year and I truly appreciate you taking the time to read them. I also had a few favorites (in no particular order):

  1. What is a Cardiac Arrest? –Learn the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack in this post.
  2. Sugar Increase Your Risk of Dying From Heart Disease – Fatty foods are considered enemy number one for cardiac patients. This post explains why sugar may be just as dangerous.
  3. What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack? – Healthy living is a family commitment. Strategies to get our kids moving and head off early heart disease.
  4. How To Prevent Your Next Heart Attack – Strategies for planning the rest of your life.
  5. The Best Supplements For Heart Health – Find out what supplements can increase your overall energy, allow you to exercise more, have less fatigue, less muscle pain and cramping, and even get a better nights sleep.

I imagine everyone is starting to make their resolutions.   Exercise, diet, etc. are all good and I wish you the best.   Check back in here throughout the year if you need a little motivation.  In case you are struggling with resolutions, there is a good post on Zenhabits describing the benefits of establishing new habits over making resolutions.

I am trying to figure out what to do with this blog in 2015.  Let me know what you liked and didn’t like over the past year.  What information do you find most beneficial?

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Paul

The Best Supplements for Heart Health

Supplements

Living a healthier lifestyle is the best way to prevent or manage heart disease.  But who couldn’t use a little assist?  There is growing evidence that supplements can help you obtain greater cardiovascular health. 

So which ones should you take?  Start with the ones’ that are well researched and have demonstrated benefits for heart health.  Using this approach, I have arrived at the following daily regimen:

  1. Fish Oil – The most recommended supplement for heart health.  Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3s help reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides and inflammation in the body.  Go with a high-quality brand such as Nordic Naturals.
  2. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – This enzyme occurs naturally in the body and helps convert food to energy.  Research shows the CoQ10 helps with heart-related conditions because it improves energy production in cells, prevents blood clot formation, and acts as an antioxidant.  Statins interfere with the production of CoQ10 so if you are on one, you should definitely ask your doctor about supplementing.  Almost a no brainer.
  3. L-Carnitine – Carnitine helps the body turn fat into energy.  It also acts as an antioxidant, fighting those crazy free radicals in your body.  Free radicals damage cells and mess with DNA.  The Mayo clinic has weighed in on this one and found that L-Carnitine can reduce mortality, abnormal heart rhythms and angina development in patients experiencing a heart attack.
  4. D-Ribose – Ribose is a carbohydrate the body uses to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP warrants a post by itself, but in a nutshell, ATP is the fuel for our body.  It’s this fuel is what allows muscles to contract, or in the case of the heart PUMP!  Sounds pretty important to me.
  5. Magnesium – All your organs, but especially your heart, need magnesium to function properly.  Magnesium has been shown to help maintain normal heart rhythms, lower the risk of congestive heart failure, and lower the death rates for those who have already had a heart attack.   Magnesium also helps with sleep, an important contributor to heart health.
  6. Multi-Vitamin – There is growing evidence that Vitamins D and B have heart health benefits.  I take a multi-vitamin from Inspired Nutrition that provides enough of these two vitamins plus a whole slew of heart healthy ingredients such as garlic, green tea, and resveratrol.  The folks at Inspired Nutrition really understand the relationship between nutrients and disease management.  I suggest you check out some of their other products as well.

I truly feel the benefits from these supplements.  I have increased energy levels, am able to exercise more, have less fatigue, have less muscle pain and cramping, and I even get a better nights sleep.

References:

“Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide.” University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.

Mayo Clinic review links L-Carnitine to multiple heart health benefits, By Oliver Nieburg+, 23-Apr-2013

Photo credit: veo_ / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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