Heart disease is the number one cause of death of women in the US and worldwide. February is Heart Month. Let’s keep your heart full and healthy all year long.
What makes for a heart-healthy grocery basket?
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale contain a wide array of antioxidants. A high intake of these vegetables may decrease your risk of heart disease and promote longevity.
Beets and chard contain betaine, which lowers homocysteine, high levels of which are linked to heart disease.
Fruit- especially blueberries and other berries, and grapes, which contain resveratrol, the same antioxidant that is found in wine and is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease
Tomatoes- a source of lycopene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, and other heart-healthy nutrients
Mushrooms contain anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin D
Plant-based proteins/legumes, including tofu and other soy products, are an excellent source of protein and fiber and do not contain cholesterol, unlike animal protein.
Healthy fats include monounsaturated fats found in avocados and olives/olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, including heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish and seeds and nuts. There is a lot of noise in the nutrition world about if saturated fat is beneficial or evil. That’s a topic for another day. We are all different, but the general advice I give is to avoid trans fats, limit saturated fat, and embrace olives and avocados.
Fatty fish. Salmon, sardines, herring, and other fatty fish fight inflammation due to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids
Seeds and nuts- almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, ground flax seeds, are a source of omega-3 fatty acids and trace elements like selenium, zinc, and magnesium.
Spices contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds and are an excellent way to add flavor without sodium. A few that are particularly heart-healthy include garlic, cinnamon, and turmeric.
Fermented foods promote a healthy gut microbiome linked to a more robust immune system and a lower heart disease risk. So get your fill of kefir, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, and if it agrees with you, yogurt.
Last but not least, Treat yourself- dark chocolate (at least 70%) is a source of antioxidants.
In addition to nutrition, we can make many lifestyle changes throughout the day that can positively impact cardiovascular health.
Exercise for Your Heart
Regular cardio workouts strengthen the heart’s function and help burn through excess sugar in the bloodstream keeping your heart healthy, blood pressure steady, and cholesterol levels in range. That strength training exercises such as squats and push-ups, dumbbells, and lunges help improve your body’s resting metabolism to burn more and improve processing sugar and cholesterol throughout the day.
Stand Up for Your Health
Preliminary evidence from observational and experimental studies points to taking breaks from sitting as being beneficial for heart health. Breaks can be as short as one minute and need not necessarily entail strenuous exercise — just taking a quick walk or taking a few steps up and down the stairs may be enough.
Resting is essential for your heart health as sleeping repairs the body itself and helps us function throughout the day. While sleeping, your blood pressure goes down. Your body deserves time to recover after a long day’s work, and you deserve the resilience to start the next day well-rested.
Your heart isn’t just a blood-pumping, oxygen-infusing machine; it’s also responsive to our stress levels. When we are stressed, we feel a sudden jolt as our heart rate increases and blood pressure goes up. If the stressful event is short-lived, body functions will soon return to normal. However, suppose there is an inability to recover from the stressful situation fully. In that case, the presence of high levels of stress hormones can increase blood pressure, therefore, increasing the risk of heart disease. Meditation, breathing exercises, and physical activities with a mind-body component like yoga and tai chi have been shown to reduce heart-damaging stress and promote good health and a high tolerance for stress or resilience. Research has shown that laughter increases the blood supply to the heart.
Spend more time doing things that you find fun! Whether that’s reading a book, talking to friends, watching a movie, riding a bike, or going on a hike, find something that fills your heart with joy.
Build connections with people. Loneliness is terrible for us generally as human beings are innately social creatures. Particularly bad for our hearts, loneliness has been linked to both a 30 percent increase in heart disease like coronary heart disease or stroke, as well as an increased risk of high blood pressure. Our connections with others allow us to grow and thrive. Reach out to friends and loved ones and stay engaged in your Quest community – we all find strength and companionship by taking part in an activity or cause outside of yourself.
Your heart is a beautiful and complex organ that is crucial to your health and well-being; let’s take good care of it. Celebrate Valentines Day every day!
Christina C Wilson MS, CNS, LN