A couple of years ago, my mom had two heart attacks. I am extremely close to my mom so it was a challenging time. Fortunately, she is fine. That experience helped to personalize the American Heart Association’s National Wear Red Day, which I celebrated earlier this month. The point of wearing red is to draw attention to the fact that “over 430,000 women die each year from cardiovascular disease – and most of these deaths are preventable.”
Speaking of heart health, Dr. Margaret Lewin, Medical Director of Cinergy Health shared 10 tips for a healthy heart with us. (In honor of Valentine’s Day, she used the acronym “Valentines”.)
Vitamin D plays a significant role in the cellular structure of the heart and its pumping ability, and deficiency can lead to heart disease and stroke. Although Vitamin D is created after direct exposure to sunlight, our appropriate efforts to protect our skin from cancer can block this path. It’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food, short of drinking four glasses of milk daily. Ask your doctor to check your blood level of Vitamin D and ask whether supplements are appropriate.
Avoid “bad fats” like hydrogenated and saturated, and eliminate trans-fats altogether. Replace them with vegetable oils such as olive, canola, corn and soy, and those supplemented with omega-3’s. Do recognize that all fats have the same number of calories, so use even “good” fats sparingly.
Lose that belly fat as it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. Belly fat is usually the first area to shrink with moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and strength training with weights.
Exercise has other heart-healthy benefits: it can help control blood lipid abnormalities, blood pressure and diabetes, as well as make the heart work more efficiently during exercise and rest. Even after suffering a heart attack, people who embark on a graduated exercise program have better rates of survival, as well as a better quality of life.
Note package labeling in prepared foods and look for the types and amounts of fats and sugars. Choose foods absent in trans-fats and low in other ‘bad fats’; and look for “no added sugar” or “unsweetened” products.
Take time each day for relaxation. Stress contributes to heart disease by turning on hormones that cause a rapid heartbeat, rise in blood pressure, increased turbulence in the bloodstream, and – some scientists believe – speed up the process of fatty material collecting in the coronary arteries. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and t’ai chi can break the cycle.
Be Informed about your blood pressure, blood sugar and lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides). If you’re not in optimum ranges, discuss with your doctor how to get there.
Nix sugars. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for women (9 for men). This isn’t much – for example a bottle of cola with 44 grams of sugar contains 10 teaspoons! (Be aware that “naturally sweetened” products often contain added fruit juice or lactose from milk, which are added sugars.) These recommendations do not include natural sugars, like in fruit.
Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and grains.
Stop smoking – the major preventable risk factor for heart disease. It increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the risk of abnormal blood clots leading directly to heart attacks and strokes.
Do any of these tips stand out as changes that you need to make?
(Updated. Originally posted on 2/5/10.)