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Tips to Keep Your Heart Healthy

Celebrating Heart Health Month by Taking Care of Yours.

Did you know?

  • The human heart beats 70 times per minute. That’s 115,000 times a day and 2.5 billion times in an average lifetime
  • The heart pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels every day
  • The average adult heart is about the size of a fist
  • Although rare, it is possible to have a broken heart, caused by a rush of stress hormones

Since February is American Heart Month, now is the perfect time to see how you can keep yours in tip-top shape.  

Let’s begin by looking at two important aspects of the cardiovascular system, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Cholesterol is an oil-based substance found in every cell of the body that is involved in many important functions including digestion and the production of essential hormones and vitamin D. It is carried by two types of lipoproteins, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is considered “bad cholesterol”, allowing it to buildup on artery walls creating plaque deposits. This reduces the supply of oxygen rich blood to the heart, brain and extremities.

According to the center for disease control and prevention out of 73.5 million adults, 31.7% have high levels of LDL which becomes more common as age increases.

  • 22% of people in their twenties, 38% of people in their thirties, 50% of people in their forties and 62% of people in their fifties have high levels of LDL.
  • For adults, total normal cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL and HDL should be 60 mg/dL or higher.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body and delivers blood that is not as rich in oxygen/nutrients.

  • High blood pressure is directly linked to weight, exercise, diet, stress, age, habits and even factors such as sleep apnea.
  • Normal blood pressure is less than 120 and over 80 (120/80).

Two of the most important factors (that you can control) in keeping your heart healthy include diet and exercise. While you don’t have to change your entire lifestyle there are a few vital tips you should consider implementing into your everyday routine.

Diet and Nutrition

Pay attention to nutrition labels

Even the best nutrition advice won’t make a difference if you don’t know what and exactly how much is in the food you eat. Plus, every food package in the U.S. is required to have a nutrition label.

  • Don’t overlook proportion size.
  • If you are trying to lose weight, make sure you burn more calories than you take in.
  • Cut back on salt. Salt enables your body to retain fluid which raises blood pressure.
  • Regardless of your salt intake, be sure to eat foods rich in potassium. Potassium helps balance the amount of salt cells have which, in return, improves blood
  • Beverages such as soda, juices and even drinks you wouldn’t expect (such as vitamin water) have a lot of sugar which, raises blood
  • Fiber helps reduce how much cholesterol your body absorbs from food. Adults should get at least 25-30 g of fiber daily. Fiber rich foods include: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oatmeal, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanut butter, yogurt and psyllium
  • Homocysteine is an amino acid that damages the lining of your blood vessels. Folic acid (and other B vitamins) helps convert homocysteine into important amino acids, creating the best environment for ideal blood flow. Foods rich in folic acid include: whole grains (bread, cereals, etc.), spinach, strawberries, oranges, broccoli and kale.

Start with fats

Just like all cells, your heart cells use ATP (energy) to pump blood, oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body. This ATP is made when we eat according to certain guidelines and suggestions. Since heart gets 60% of its energy from fat cells and the liver makes cholesterol based mostly on fat intake, the AHA recommends replacing unhealthy, saturated fats with healthy, unsaturated fats.

  • A lot of food includes trans-fat due to how affordable it is and the long shelf life it gives food. However, trans fat is the worst for you because it raises bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers good cholesterol (HDL). Processed and hydrogenated foods tend to have a large amount of trans-fat contributing to the plaque buildup that clogs your
  • Choose to eat leaner meat and reduced fat options, especially when it comes to dairy (milk, chest, yogurt,
  • Even though most of our cholesterol is based on the types of fat in the food we eat, foods as common as egg yolks still contribute to our overall cholesterol. Knowing what is in the food you eat is the key to making heart-healthy decisions.

Meat

  • Limit how often you consume red meat – while it is full of nutrients, it is important to include other
  • A lot of people overlook the importance of fish and chicken to their heart. Make it a goal to eat fish at least two times a week (salmon, tuna and sardines are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids which promote healthy blood pressure and triglyceride
  • When purchasing chicken, choose boneless, skinless meat. If there is skin, you might want to trim and substitute it with seasonings such as garlic, curcumin, turmeric or oregano (all promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol).

Dessert

  • If you are going to give into your sweet tooth, make dark chocolate your first option. Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant known to promote healthy blood pressure and blood flow by helping limit blood clots and cell
  • The same flavonoids found in dark chocolate are found in red wine, pears, apples, blueberries, cherries and certain nuts.

Other heart-healthy food tips

  • Eat dark, leafy, green vegetables – the amount of vitamin K will help foster healthy blood
  • Whole grains that are high in fiber will help reduce how much bad cholesterol is absorbed.
  • Berries tend to be rich in antioxidants (such as anthocyanins) for cellular protection and anti-inflammatory
  • Including avocados in your diet will help you get potassium and the heart-healthy unsaturated fats your body
  • Garlic contributes to healthy blood flow, blood pressure and
  • Limit intake of alcohol – alcohol raises blood pressure and contributes to weight gain.

Getting Physical

The stronger your heart is the more blood it will pump with each heartbeat which, decreases the amount of work your heart must do to sufficiently supply your body with not only blood but also oxygen and nutrients. The more nutrients and oxygen circulating, the more efficient our bodies become.

Aerobic Exercise

Otherwise known as cardio, aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscle decreasing how much work your heart must do daily. Cardio helps decrease blood pressure and heart rate overall improving circulation. Good examples of aerobic exercise include brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling and jumping rope.

The American Heart Association recommends interval circuit training as the best type of cardio. An average adult should get 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. It is also important to limit the amount of sitting you do each day; sitting for long periods of time hurt blood flow, increasing the chances of clotting. Take the stairs whenever possible and if you work at a desk, be sure to get up and move every so often.