Top 10 Strategies for a Healthy Heart Lifestyle. We can’t change everything but stress, blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity & eating healthy can be.
February is American Heart Month—a reminder to all that heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States.
1. Make more healthy food choices.
One of the best ways to fight off heart disease is to eat a healthy diet, particularly one rich in whole grains, legumes, fish, nonfat or low-fat dairy products, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and poultry without the skin, and be sure to prepare them without added saturated and trans fats. Limit your consumption of foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to also lower the trans fats in your diet. Watch your “added sugar and salt” intake and remember that if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman, and two drinks a day if you’re a man.
2. Lose the belly fat and keep it off.
Having a wide girth, a beer belly, or an apple-shaped figure may mean you have large amounts of deep-hidden belly fat around your internal organs. This fat, also known as visceral fat, may in fact be the most dangerous fat you can have. The more belly fat you have, the higher your risk for developing heart disease or for having a stroke. It seems to be the type of fat that goes straight to the liver to be metabolized into cholesterol. LDL cholesterol circulates in the blood and contributes to the development of arterial plaque and narrowing of the arteries. Visceral fat also produces more inflammation in the body than fat found in other areas of the body. Inflammation is thought to play a key role in heart disease and other chronic diseases. Lose the belly fat and keep it off by following a sensible weight-management program designed to preserve muscle mass while promoting fat loss, especially around the waist. Losing just 5%–10% of your body weight can significantly improve your blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood-sugar levels.
3. Get more of the “sunshine” vitamin.
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is made in the body when the rays of the sun are absorbed by the skin. Health care professionals and nutrition research scientists have known for years this vitamin is needed for the regulation of calcium and phosphorus to help build and maintain strong bones. But recent research indicates that adequate intake of vitamin D may reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies indicate that vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased cardiovascular risk, above and beyond established cardiovascular risk factors such as blood cholesterol and blood pressure. The current daily recommended dietary intake of vitamin D is 200 IU for everyone up to age 50, then 400 IU up to age 70, and 600 IU for those 70 and older. However, according to nutrition researchers, that may not be enough. Although how much is enough is still being debated, we may need three to four times more than what most people currently get. While 10–15 minutes a day of sun exposure can boost vitamin D levels in the body, very few foods in nature contain vitamin D. Fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and cod liver oil are among the best sources. Small amounts of vitamin D also are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks, but these foods also are high in fat and cholesterol. To play it safe take a multi-vitamin
/multi-mineral supplement with at least 400 IU–1,000 IU of vitamin D per serving.
4. Go fishing with omega-3 fatty acids.
To reduce the risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids each week. Why? Because clinical evidence suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish oil help to reduce risk factors for heart disease, including high levels of triglycerides and high blood pressure. There is also strong evidence to suggest these substances inhibit the development of plaque and blood clots, which both contribute to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. Higher intakes of EPA and DHA may also be helpful in people with existing heart disease. Clinical studies of heart attack survivors have found that daily omega-3 fatty acid supplements dramatically reduce the risk of death, subsequent heart attacks, and stroke. So, are you consuming your two servings of fish, rich in omega-3s each week? Well, if you’re like most Americans, you’re lucky if you consume two servings a month. Also, concerns about heavy metal contamination and environmental pollutants in our fish supply pose additional concerns about getting sufficient EPA and DHA supply from diet alone. Take a highly-quality, ultra-pure fish oil supplement daily to ensure you’re getting enough. Look for a supplement that provides a daily serving of 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids high in EPA and DHA.
5. Protect your body against free radicals and oxidative stress.
Atherosclerosis is a chronic, progressive disease in which plaques (consisting of deposits of cholesterol and other lipids and large inflammatory cells called macrophages) build up in the walls of arteries. Over time, these plaques can lead to a complete obstruction to blood flow or suddenly rupture, causing a blood clot to form and leading to a total blockage of the artery. Some researchers believe that oxidative stress and free-radical damage to the walls of blood vessels is the initial insult that causes this disease. Many nutrients such as vitamins C and E, and the mineral selenium, are potent antioxidants that work to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and scavenge free radicals, so getting adequate amounts of these nutrients is another important strategy for promoting cardiovascular health. Consuming more foods rich in these nutrients, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and potatoes for vitamin C, and nuts and seeds for vitamin E and selenium is a good place to start. And to be sure you’re getting enough on a daily basis, don’t forget to take a comprehensive multivitamin/multimineral supplement that includes these important antioxidant nutrients.
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