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By Tracy Shields - February is heart month, so woo your heart with easy but essential acts of love.
What are the best vitamin and mineral supplements with a proven track record for strengthening the heart? How important is exercise? How about sleep? Is it possible to manage arterial plaque? We’ve picked the top seven best things you can do right now to strengthen and love your heart; here are four to get you started.
1. Exercise: Exercise is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy heart and to prevent future heart problems. Not only can it reduce your risk of heart disease, it may even reduce inflammation throughout the years.1 And hey, it’s a heck of a lot easier to prevent heart problems than to correct them.
The secret is regular exercise. Getting your heart rate up into a safe but aerobic zone three to five days per week is key. According to the American Heart Association, “For health benefits to the heart, lungs and circulation, perform any moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week at 50–85 percent of your maximum heart rate.”2 However, if you have heart disease, it is recommended to first consult a physician for advice before beginning. Exercise is my top pick because of all the natural, healthy benefits.
2. Proper Nutrition: Like exercise, proper nutrition is also crucial. That means consuming a balance of fats, proteins and carbs. Proteins and carbs are somewhat self-explanatory. But not just any fat will do—especially if it’s coming from a Little Debbie snack cake. The body needs healthy fats called “essential fatty acids” that cannot be produced by the body. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that is found primarily in the heart-healthy form (EPA & DHA) in specific types of fish: sardines, tuna, herring, salmon and mackerel.
Quick tips for a healthier heart:
- Use olive oil or alternative spreads (unsaturated fats) like grapeseed oil to give bread or potatoes what your taste buds crave.
- Stop eating junk food. Reduced-fat cookies, crackers or chips often have trans-fats! Replace with homemade, whole grain fruit breads and pies.
- Be suspicious of label claims like “reduced-fat” or “low-carb.” Instead, read over the label to see if it has trans-fats.
- Eat more whole, raw foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
- Keep your protein intake to 10% daily. For a 132-pound woman, that would be about 48 grams of protein. Studies now show that we do not need any more than 10%-12% protein in our diets. That’s impossible to do if you eat a 3 oz. serving of meat more than once per day (hint: eat more plant-based foods!).3
- Eat less pre-packaged food. Pre-made foods often contain sodium and who knows what else. If every one of your meals comes out of a can or box, it can add up until you’ve eaten more of these synthetic, non-organic chemicals than you should. Reducing excess salt, sugar and other odd ball ingredients is heart healthy and can be easily done by limiting how often you eat boxed or canned food.
- Buy lean instead of fatty meats. Limit or remove red meat entirely from your diet (beef, pork and lamb); replace with chicken breast, turkey, fish or veggie dishes.
- Have a bowl of old-fashioned, cook-on-the-stove oatmeal every day for breakfast, with a tablespoon of ground flax and a handful of blueberries. Not only is it the world’s healthiest breakfast, it also helps reduce cholesterol and is very good for your heart.
3. Take CoQ10: Co-enzyme Q10 is a naturally occurring compound found everywhere in the body. We produce CoQ10 and it’s what gives our bodies energy. As we age, we produce less. And those with heart complications (like heart disease) have been found to have even less. Anyone can supplement with CoQ10, but for heart patients it’s essential. For patients with end-stage heart failure, for example, CoQ10 supplements may be used in conjunction with medication to improve quality of life and reduce symptoms. In a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 32 heart patients, those who took 60 milligrams of CoQ10 for three months had less fatigue and experienced improvements on a six-minute walk test. Studies also indicate that those with congestive heart failure who take CoQ10 supplements in addition to their medications are less likely to be hospitalized than those who do not take CoQ10.4, 5
4. Manage Blood Pressure: If you have high blood pressure, it is important to treat it. Your heart can’t remain healthy and strong if your blood pressure is out of control. First of all, high blood pressure that is not treated leads first to heart disease and next to heart failure or heart attack. As the heart must work harder, the heart muscle can thicken, which demands even more oxygen. The heart is forced to work even harder. Secondly, high blood pressure can lead to plaque build-up in the artery wall that in turn can lead to heart attack. Therefore, if you want to have a strong heart, you need to take care not to damage it. This means making a promise to find ways to manage your blood pressure (hint: lower salt and sugar intake, eat more plant-based foods, take supplements such as CoQ10 and omega-3s, remove dairy from your diet and avoid trans-fats).
We have four more heart-loving acts for you next week, so stay tuned.
1. Why Aerobic Exercise Is Good For The Heart http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070320073101.htm
2. Physical Activity, AHA Scientific Position http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/94/4/857.full
3. How Much Protein Do I Need? http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html#How%20much%20protein
4. Coenzyme Q10 in patients with end-stage heart failure awaiting cardiac transplantation: a randomized, placebo-controlled study, Clin Cardiol. 2004 May;27(5):295-9, Scientific Abstract
5. Effect of coenzyme Q10 therapy in patients with congestive heart failure: a long-term multicenter randomized study. Clin Investig. 1993;71(8 Suppl):S134-6, Scientific Abstract http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8241697