Making Heart-Friendly Choices
Making Heart-Friendly Choices
by Jackie Foskett, CH
Heart-friendly lifestyle choices don’t have to be a struggle. Here are some simple ways you can protect your heart—and feel great about yourself.
Move your Body
According to the February 2007 Natural Health article “Lock in Your Heart Health” by Catherine Guthrie, moving your body is a must for a healthy heart. Exercise releases nitric oxide, a substance that lowers blood pressure. This chemical also soothes inflamed arteries, which helps keep sticky plaque from adhering to blood vessel walls.
How much should you exercise to maintain heart health? The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (re-frame: moving your body) five times per week. According to a September 2006 article in the Journal of Hypertension , you don’t need to get your daily exercise all at one time—four brisk 10-minute walks or workouts scattered throughout the day might even be more beneficial than one long 40-minute workout.
Being a smart eater is great for your heart! Good eating habits keep your heart’s plumbing system working smoothly and protect your heart from the ill effects of weight gain and diabetes.
1. Fiber is your heart’s friend
According to a 2004 report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , increasing fiber intake can lower your risk of heart disease by approximately 30%! Be sure to include two types of fiber in your diet:
Soluble fiber (found in food like oats, rice bran, barley, strawberries and citrus fruits) helps lower cholesterol.
Insoluble fiber (found in foods like whole wheat breads and pastas and most vegetables) contain anti-oxidants, vitamin E, selenium and phenolic acids—all of which help keep fat molecules from oxidizing (think rusting) and clogging artery walls.
2. Make produce productive for your heart
Fruits and vegetables naturally contain heart healthy anti-oxidants that are good for your overall health and well being. Aim for 9 servings (1/2- to 1-cup portions) per day. If this seems daunting, increase your intake slowly. Harvard researchers found that for every serving of fruits and vegetables you add to your diet on a daily basis, you decrease your risk of heart disease by 4%. Wow!
3. Your heart loves Omega 3s
Many studies show that the “good” fats found in fish and, to a lesser degree, flaxseeds, canola oil and walnuts help reduce blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels and give your arterial function a boost. Try substituting salmon, mackerel or other oily cold water fish for chicken, turkey, pork and beef at least two times per week.
4. Eliminate trans fats
According to a 2006 review in the New England Journal of Medicine, for every 2% of daily calories that come from trans fats, you increase your risk of heart disease by 23%. Trans fats increase harmful LDL cholesterol, decrease beneficial HDL cholesterol and promote inflammation. Sources of these harmful fats include fast foods, packaged snack foods, crackers, and bakery goods made with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Beware: even if a food label states 0 grams of trans fat, the Food & Drug Administration allows food containing 500 milligrams or less of trans fatty acids per serving to be listed as 0. One serving may be okay, but more than one or two could add up quickly to your heart and blood vessels.
5. Use alcohol intelligently
Initial studies on the benefits of alcohol for the heart, particularly red wine, looked only at men. A study from the May 2006 online edition of the British Medical Journal found that for women, just one alcoholic drink per week gave similar heart protection results. So, go ahead, have your wine if you choose. But know it only takes a little to receive a lot!
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