Tag Archives: heart health

13 Top Heart Healthy Foods

puzzle-heart-1440817-3-mI lost my grandma to congestive heart failure 14 years ago. I worry that I could have heart issues someday.

I was surprised to read recently that heart disease is still the number one killer of Americans. Even though we have learned so much about the prevention of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, it seems we can still do more to stop this deadly condition.

It’s been proven that eating healthier and getting more exercise can make a huge difference in your risk for heart disease.

What you eat matters. Here are 13 top foods to help protect your heart and blood vessels:

Salmon
Salmon is super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce blood pressure and keep clotting at bay. Salmon also contains powerful antioxidants. Grill it up with a tasty rub or marinade. Save a chunk of salmon and chop it up for pasta or salad at another meal. To mix things up, you can also eat oily fish like mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines.

Oatmeal
A steaming bowl of oats is a great way to start the day and also gives you omega-3 fatty acids, folate, niacin, calcium and potassium. It’s rich in fiber and can help lower bad cholesterol and keep your arteries clear. Add raisins or fresh berries to boost this heart healthy dish.

Nuts
Walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, along with mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, magnesium and fiber. Mix a few of these nuts with yogurt or berries, add them to salads, or make your own trail mix.

Avocado
A bit of avocado added to a sandwich or spinach salad can give you a serving of heart-healthy fats. Avocados are packed with monounsaturated fats and help lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol. Avocados also help in the absorption of beta-carotene and lycopene, which are both good for heart health.

Olive oil
Olive oil is also a source of monounsaturated fats and helps lower bad cholesterol. Use it in place of butter or other oils for cooking.

Flaxseed
Flaxseed is full of fiber and omega-3 as well as omega-6 fatty acids. Sprinkle flaxseed on oatmeal or whole-grain cereal for breakfast. You can also use flaxseed instead of eggs when making muffins, quick breads, pancakes or cookies.

Berries
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and blackberries are all full of anti-inflammatories, which reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. They also contain vitamins and nutrients as well as fiber. Mix berries in your salads, muffins or trail mix.

Red wine
A glass of red wine can improve your good cholesterol. Red wine contains both catechins and reservatrol, also known as flavonoids.

Legumes
You can fill up on fiber with lentils, chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans. These legumes are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber.

Leafy greens
Spinach can help your heart with lutein, folate, potassium and fiber. Spinach can make nutrient-packed salads and sandwiches. Other leafy greens include kale, collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce and cabbage.

Soy
Soy is low in saturated fat and is a great source of lean protein for a heart-healthy diet. Try natural sources of soy, such as edamame, tempeh or tofu. Soy milk is good with a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal, or even in smoothies.

Fruits and veggies
It’s important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. You should even try to make them half your plate. You can buy fresh fruits and veggies that are in season, frozen or canned (just be sure it’s 100% fruit juice and not syrup). Some heart healthy veggies include carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, asparagus and squash. In addition to berries, add these fruits to your diet: oranges, apples, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwi, peaches and papaya.

Tomatoes
I’m never sure if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, but it deserves its own category anyway. Tomatoes are a super food packed with beta- and alpha-carotenes, lycopene, lutein, vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber. You can add tomatoes to salads, pasta dishes, pizza and more. You even eat them in ketchup.

Adding these heart healthy foods to your diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. See if you can eat a few of the foods listed above today!

Are you at risk for high blood pressure?

high blood pressure heart family geneticsBoth of my parents take medication to lower their blood pressure. My brother also takes blood pressure medicine. At 43 years old, my numbers are currently normal, but I do worry about hypertension.

How much does my genetic make-up have to do with it? Or, does my lifestyle have the biggest impact on my blood pressure? Before we get into the risk factors, I think we need to answer a few other important questions.

What is high blood pressure?
Your blood pressure is high if you have readings that are consistently above 140 over 90 for several weeks. You can also have high blood pressure if just one of those numbers is high over a period of time.

What does it matter if you have high blood pressure?
Higher blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels. This additional strain can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure can also cause kidney disease, and is linked to some forms of dementia.

What are the signs of high blood pressure?
There typically aren’t any signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your readings taken. One high reading does not necessarily mean your blood pressure is high. Many things can affect your pressures throughout the day. You may also get stressed about going to the doctor, which may increase your reading. You need to have your blood pressure checked over time and see if it remains high.

What causes high blood pressure?
For most people, there isn’t a single cause for their high blood pressure. It’s not certain what causes high blood pressure, but it seems to be most often brought on by a combination of your lifestyle as well as other factors that you can’t control.

Here are some of the key risk factors for high blood pressure:

Aging
The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Men 45 years of age and older have an increased risk of hypertension. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure at about 55 years old, or after menopause.

Family history
Genetics is a strong risk factor for high blood pressure. Hypertension tends to run in families. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as good eating habits and keep off extra weight, can help prolong the time you spend without the disease.

Ethnicity
People from African-Caribbean and South Asian decent tend to be at a greater risk for high blood pressure. African Americans also have increased rates of hypertension, can develop the condition earlier in life, and often have more serious complications than Caucasians.

Being overweight
Being overweight or obese creates an extra strain on your heart. Your blood pressure can rise with the more extra pounds you put on. More blood is circulated through your body and adds more pressure to your artery walls. Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent high blood pressure.

Physically inactive
Without regular exercise to keep your heart strong, it has to pump harder to circulate your blood and puts extra stress on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also goes hand in hand with becoming overweight.

Unhealthy diet
Having too much fat and sugar in your diet can contribute to weight gain and increase your chances of high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet with protein, fiber and plenty of fruits and vegetables can even help lower blood pressure.

Too much salt
A high sodium diet can raise your blood pressure. When you eat too much salt, your body retains fluid which can increase blood pressure. Keep your salt intake to a minimum.

Using tobacco
Smoking or chewing tobacco raises your blood pressure temporarily. However, the chemicals in tobacco can also damage the lining in your artery walls. Your arteries can narrow and raise your blood pressure.

Overindulging in alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk of hypertension. Over time, it damages your heart. Limiting yourself to one glass of alcohol a day if you’re a woman and two glasses a day if you’re a man can help you avoid high blood pressure.

So, while my age and my family genetics may be going against me, it seems that I can help lower my chances of developing high blood pressure by living a more balanced lifestyle. By exercising, eating right and maintaining a healthy weight, I may be able to keep high blood pressure at bay. That’s all the more reason to live a balanced life!

Best exercises to lower your cholesterol

Control cholesterol with exerciseHigh cholesterol increases your risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33.5% of Americans have high LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

The good news is that a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss are the key components of reducing LDL cholesterol levels. While cholesterol-lowering drugs may also help, most health professionals would recommend lifestyle changes as the first defense (except in those with very high lipid levels, or pre-existing diabetes or coronary disease).*

So, you’ve been told you need to lower your LDL cholesterol. Exercise is one of the best ways to help control your cholesterol. But what kind of exercise should you do? How long and how often?

Here are answers to the questions you may have about the best exercise routine to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and even raise your “good” HDL cholesterol:

What type of exercise is best?

Aerobic exercises seem to benefit cholesterol the most – lowering LDL by 5 to 10% and raising HDL cholesterol by 3 to 6%. Aerobic exercise includes jogging, running and walking.

In addition, newer exercise crazes such as zumba and kickboxing are aerobic. You can even swim, cycle or do yoga. Everyday activities like walking the dog, raking leaves and dancing can also count.

The reason aerobic exercise is the best for reducing cholesterol is that it makes your heart pump harder and faster. You then raise your metabolism and cause your body to burn more calories. Your body burns calories it gained from fat, and reducing this fat impacts your LDL cholesterol levels. Exercise also helps keep LDL cholesterol from building up on the walls of your arteries, which is good for your heart health.

strength trainingStudies have shown that strength training can also help improve your LDL and HDL levels. In addition, strength or resistance training will help you build muscle. Adding in stretching exercises will help keep you more limber and flexible, and you’ll be less likely to experience an injury. Endurance, strength and flexibility all add up to increase your overall level of fitness.

How much exercise do I need?

Most research has shown that to lower cholesterol levels, you should exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. The good news is that you don’t have to fit it in all at lower cholesterol levelsone time. You can divide the time up into 10 or 15-minute sessions – as long as you get in the 30 minutes total.

You can also mix up the types of exercise you do in a day. For instance, you could take a 10-minute walk, rake leaves for 10 minutes and do 10 minutes of strength training.

And, if you’re not up to vigorous exercise every day, then any type of physical activity is better than none. Just get up and get moving!

What else can I do to achieve lower cholesterol?

Lose weight
A side benefit of increasing your activity levels and exercising more vigorously is that you may also lose weight. People who are overweight tend to have elevated LDL cholesterol. Therefore, losing even 5 to 10% of your body weight will also help improve your cholesterol levels. Keep in mind that you can be at the recommended weight and still have high cholesterol, so exercising is important for everyone.

lower cholesterol heart healthy foodsEating heart-healthy foods
Choose healthier fats such as those found in leaner cuts of meat and low-fat dairy. In addition, monounsaturated fats found in olive, peanut and canola oils are healthier options.

Avoid trans fats which can be found in fried foods and many commercially baked products like cookies and snack cakes.

Choose whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pastas and flour, and brown rice. Eat fruits and vegetables because are rich in fiber and help lower cholesterol.

Quit smoking
If you stop smoking, it can improve your HDL cholesterol level. You also reduce your risk of a heart attack and your blood pressure decreases.

Drink in moderation
Moderate alcohol levels may increase your levels of HDL or good cholesterol. However, the benefits aren’t strong enough to start drinking if you don’t currently. And, drinking too much leads to serious health problems, so keep it to one drink a day for women and one or two drinks a day for men.

Exercise has so many benefits beyond lowering cholesterol. It can help keep your bones strong, reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, and stroke, improve your mood, and help you sleep.

Now, step away from the computer or mobile device and get moving!

*It is important that you consult your physician and other practitioners/counselors/consultants before initiating any changes in your diet or exercise program.