How to Have a Healthy Heart
It’s the number one cause of death for women—but heart disease is 80% preventable, according to the Mayo Clinic. How do you stop this sometimes-silent killer? Taking one heart-healthy step a day, even if it’s a small step, can greatly reduce the risk of your entire family developing heart disease.
“Do one thing a day, and by the end of the month, you—and your family—will have a healthier heart,” says Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., an attending cardiologist and Director of Women and Heart Disease at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. You’ll want your overall goal to be losing weight, eliminating added salt and sugar, lowering your cholesterol, exercising regularly, and eating a diet primarily composed of vegetables and fruits, some nuts, seeds, and whole grains, and little to no meat and dairy. These daily tips are the easiest, most effective, and expert-endorsed ways to prevent and manage heart disease.
Instead of feeling guilty if your blood pressure is high or your cholesterol is out of control, Steinbaum says turn energy you’d use feeling guilty toward making changes in your lifestyle. To ditch the guilt, remind yourself that 80% of heart disease is preventable.
Stop Adding Salt
Sodium is an important mineral that is essential to the body’s proper function, however, adding salt (sodium chloride) to food provides us with dangerously high amounts of sodium. Today, according to the CDC, Americans typically consume 3500 mg of sodium per day, of which 77% of sodium in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods.
The human diet, for millions of years, did not contain any added salt—only the sodium present in natural foods. This equates to less than 1000 mg of sodium per day, which is what we should all be aiming for. Reach for some lemon juice instead.
Reign in or control cholesterol by sprinkling unsalted and unroasted raw nuts on a salad or your oatmeal. “Nuts are rich in plant sterols, natural substances that block absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract,” says Stephen Devries, M.D., a preventive cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Two handfuls a day (about 2 ounces) have been shown to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by 10 points. Four handfuls of nuts have been shown to cut the risk of heart disease by more than one-third “All nuts appear to be beneficial, but almonds and walnuts have the most benefit,” says Devries.
Chat it up
Make today’s Facebook status a message that women experience different symptoms of a heart attack than men, and encourage your female friends to make that message their current status, too. “Roughly one third to one quarter of women who have a heart attack don’t have any chest pain at all,” says A. Marc Gillinov, M.D., cardiologist and surgical director, Center for Atrial Fibrillation at The Cleveland Clinic. Instead of clutching at their chest with intense pain like a man might, Gillinov says women who do experience pain tend to feel heaviness in the chest. “They feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest,” he says.
HEART HEALTHY BREAKFAST
Keep your family’s hearts beating strong with a heart-healthy breakfast of one fresh fruit and a 1/2 cup of rolled oats or live whole grain cereal with unsweetened, non-GMO soy milk or unsweetened almond milk. “You can reduce your cholesterol by as much as 30% with a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins,” says Steinbaum.
Fill up your cup
A new Harvard study says there is no risk of heart disease associated with coffee, even as much as two large cups a day. And as long as it’s brewed using a natural paper filter (brown ones), boiled, or prepared in a French press, 8 ounces of coffee can help shave off a few points of cholesterol.
And if coffee isn’t your thing, fill your mug with sugarless, all-natural hot cocoa (found at most health food stores). The flavanols, natural plant compounds in cocoa, help your blood vessels function better to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Indulge—just a little—in your love of chocolate. Researchers found that regularly eating milk or dark chocolate can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 37%. Just don’t go overboard; chocolate can be fattening, too. Aim for no more than one or two squares of a regular size, natural chocolate bar to prevent packing on pounds (sugarless is always best).
Go to a CPR course
Have a girls’ or boys’ night at your local fire department or hospital and learn chest-compression-only CPR. That way you’ll know what to do if you see someone collapse from cardiac arrest.
Instead of walking on a treadmill or at the mall, switch things up and walk in a green space. Japanese researchers found walking in woodsy places lowers the stress hormone cortisol by almost 16% and blood pressure by almost 4%. Indoor walking yielded about 1/3 less benefits.
Sitting requires more energy than lying down and also puts less stress on your heart. That translates into burning more calories and the ability to better manage your weight, says Rose Marie Robertson, M.D., chief science officer, American Heart Association.
The Good White Ssnacks
Florida State University researchers found an apple a day just might keep the doctor away by lowering LDL cholesterol by 23% and raising “good” HDL cholesterol by about 4%, according to their study. Granny Smith and Red Delicious are lowest in sugar and highest in nutrients. Oh yeah, apple-eating women also lose an average of 3.3 lbs., reducing the risk for obesity, another factor in heart disease. Eating one piece of fruit that has white flesh, like pears or apples, can also reduce the risk of stroke by 52%.
Stand Up for Your Heart
Stand up to perform tasks like folding laundry, balancing the checkbook, or paying bills online. “Studies have shown that prolonged sitting, or sitting for majority of the day, is equivalent to smoking as far as the risk for cardiovascular disease,” she says. On the flip side, standing helps improve circulation and the health of your arteries.
Sixty-four percent of people with high blood pressure have sleep apnea. If your hubby’s snoring kept you up all night last night, insist he have his blood pressure checked ASAP. Snoring is a sign of sleep apnea.
Clean your kitchen
To protect all the hearts in her family, Laila Ali turned her kitchen upside down. “I cleaned out my pantry and tossed things that weren’t natural or organic and replaced them with food from the Earth,” she says. “Now, we eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.”
For more information about heart health check out Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life