February is American Heart Month, so I am using Food, Pleasure, and Health as a platform to raise awareness and provide information on preventing + managing heart disease, a leading cause of death among both men and women.
Heart disease is a broad term for any type of disorder that affects the heart such as angina, heart failure, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction etc. After spending 5 + years (and counting) in a healthcare world, it saddens me to see how little attention is given to prevention of diseases in our health care system. A lot of people are still unaware of risk factors associated with heart disease and unfortunately, most of the time it is too late when they find out they have a heart disease.
Today, I am sharing 11 Things You Should Do For A Healthier Heart. I'd really appreciate if you could share these tips with your loved ones (or apply it yourself) so we can together help prevent or decrease the risk of heart disease. These tips will also help manage your existing heart problems and reduce further complications associated with heart diseases.
There are several factors that increases your risk for heart disease. Non-modifiable risk factors such as:
Gender (males are at greater risk, women's risk increases after menopause)
Age (the older you get, the higher your risk)
A family history of heart disease are beyond our control, therefore these individuals should be extra careful in taking care of their heart.
Rest of us should focus on taking charge of modifiable risk factors -- aka lifestyle changes for a healthier heart!
Here are 11 Things You Should Do For A Healthier Heart:
Manage Your Weight: Being at a unhealthy body weight increases your LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, blood pressure, diabetes which makes you more susceptible to heart disease and stroke. Reducing as little as 5-10% of your current body weight will decrease your risk significantly. If you have been following Food, Pleasure, and Health for a while, you know my philosophy is "smaller, realistic, lifestyle changes" rather than detox and fad diet.
Eat More Fiber: There are two types fiber: soluble and insoluble, although most fiber-rich foods such as oats, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, bran cereal contain some of both. Besides it's ability to prevent or relieve constipation, fiber helps lower LDL (bad-cholesterol) and blood pressure which is beneficial for heart health.
The Institute of Medicine recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. Sadly, the average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber per day.
High Fiber Recipes -->Mocha Overnight Oats // Oats & Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies // 29 Healthy Legume Recipes // Tomato Mint Quinoa // 5 Ways To Eat More Fruits & Veggies
Quit Smoking: Quit smoking, including e-cigarettes and second hand smoking. The nicotine in cigarette reduces the amount of oxygen to your heart, increase your blood pressure, and increase your risk of blood clots which could lead to heart attacks or strokes, and damage your blood vessel in your heart.
Know Your Numbers: No matter how healthy you think your are, you need to at least know your average blood pressure, lipid panel (cholesterol, triglycerides), blood sugar, and weight. A lot of people refuse to go to the doctor including myself, hate getting lab work done, or are simply afraid to find out about their health. Instead of waiting and letting things get out of hand, wouldn't you want to find out and do something about it today? If possible, please get a yearly physical so that way you know how things are going on the inside, regardless of how you feel on the outside.
Move More: Being physically active helps prevent and reduce the risk of heart disease significantly. Heart is a muscle so you need to keep it strong to pump efficiently. One of the best exercises you can do for your heart is aerobic exercise or cardio. For overall cardiovascular health, American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes! Examples of aerobic exercises include walking, taking stairs, bicycle ride, swimming, dancing etc.
Get Your Fats Right: There are lots of conflicting information and controversies when it comes to fats and heart health. Our body including the heart needs fats so instead of shunning all fats, you need to eat the right type and quantity of fats to prevent heart disease.
There are mainly 2 types of fats you need for heart health- omega 3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Remember that there are nine calories in every gram of fat, regardless of what type of fat it is but they all function differently. It is best to stay away from trans fat and replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats for better heart health.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish and plant sources. Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies, rainbow trout, bluefish, caviar, and white albacore tuna canned in water are wonderful sources of omega-3 (EPA and DHA). Plant sources of omega-3 (ALA) include canola oil, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, and dark green, leafy vegetables. In your body, ALA is only partially converted in comparison to EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower bad LDL cholesterol, raise good HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and may reduce the risk of blood clots. We need at least 0.5 g EPA and DHA per day and 1 g per day of ALA!
Monounsaturated fats are known lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol. Good sources include olive oil, almonds, and avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.
Be a Responsible Drinker: I am sure we have all heard that drinking wine especially red wine is good for heart health. Red wine contains flavonoids, catechins, and resveratrol (antioxidants) which are associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown benefits of drinking red wine for heart health but you need to be mindful about your overall lifestyle, health condition, and other factors before deciding to drink wine for preventing heart disease. Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends that you start drinking alcohol to prevent heart problems. Drinking more than the recommended amounts of alcohol can actually raise blood pressure, contribute heart disease, and increase a risk of addiction. For healthy adults, recommendation is one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
Practice Self-Care: We all are busy and making time for ourselves is challenging. Things such as inadequate sleep, chronic stress, and lack of rest puts a big strain on heart health. Stress leads to inflammation, increase blood pressure, and damage walls in our arteries, all of which increase our risk of heart disease. No matter how hectic life gets, please treat "me-time" like it's an important appointment you can't miss.
Go Nuts: Nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and peanuts are good sources of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and unsaturated fats, vitamin E, plant sterols, and fiber - all of which are good for your heart health. They are great as a snack,with your salad and oatmeal!
Be Cautious with Supplements: There are many supplements marketed for heart health and you need to be extra careful even though they say 'natural' or 'herbal'. I am personally not a huge advocate of supplements and always recommend getting your nutrients via foods. Some supplements have shown to provide protective health benefits such as Fish Oil, Vitamin D, Coenzme Q10, Niacin, and Magnesium. I don't feel comfortable recommending dosage of supplements without knowing your comprehensive health and lifestyle factors so please get with your physician or see a dietitian for the exact recommendation.
Celebrate Your Success: If you are at a high risk of getting a heart disease or already suffer from one, things can be scary, overwhelming and sometimes even frustrating. No matter where you are in your health journey, it is never to late to make changes, even something as simple as eating one fruit a day or walking your dog extra 10 minutes. Remember to celebrate your success and thank those who supported you in your heart health journey!