Attacking Heart Health – A Three-Part Approach
When discussing heart health, most people think of cardiovascular exercise. Did you know that nutrition, stress management, and cardiovascular training all affect heart health? To tackle heart health, consider looking at your health from a balanced 3-part approach:
1. Proper Diet
Dietary changes to improve overall heart health include; a decreased consumption of high fat or processed meats, increased consumption of dark green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, and the inclusion of high quality, specifically mono-saturated, fats. Diets high in these items work to decrease LDL (bad cholesterol), and increase HDL (good cholesterol). Additionally, check with your doctor to get a baseline cholesterol level.
Foods to include:
Lean meats – chicken, fish, turkey, and lean cuts of red meat
Vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, kale, and beets
Fruits – all citrus fruits and berries
Grains – Oats and brown rice
When you are properly hydrated, your cells can function at their best. Proper cell hydration improves the flushing of fluids and waste products out of your system – free radicals and fatty acids within the blood stream specifically. Make a goal to hydrate with at least ½ of your body weight in ounces each day. This should include fresh, plain water without additional carbonation, artificial flavors or sweeteners.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – according to a study from the Mayo Clinic Medical Education and Research (MFMER) from 1998-2010 - can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that is thought to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Overall, inflammation can damage your blood vessels and lead to heart disease.
They recommend eating one to two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that's rich in Omega-3 fatty acids or including an omega-3 supplement to your diet that contains at least 300mg daily.
Vitamin E – Vitamin E helps to neutralize free radicals and prevent heart disease because it acts as an antioxidant. According to the Livestrong organization at livestrong.com, Vitamin E slows the process of plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to many heart problems. Foods that contain vitamin E include nuts, seeds and vegetable oil. Or supplement with at least 600IU of Vitamin E daily.
Vitamin C - Vitamin C also prevents the activity of free radicals. According to NaturalNews.com, Vitamin C helps to rebuild collagen which prevents damage in the arteries and decreases the chance of heart disease. Choose citrus fruits that are high in Vitamin C (like oranges, mango, or grapefruit). Or, supplement with at least 500mg daily.
Vitamin D – It is well-known that North Americans don’t get enough Vitamin D each day. As we spend more time indoors we lose the absorption of this important vitamin. Plus, when we are eventually outdoors, we cover up with sun-blocking clothing and hats or use sunscreen to prevent sun damage. Though good to prevent sun damage on the skin, the need to absorb Vitamin D is still crucial to preventing heart disease, increasing energy, and improving your mood. Truestar Health recommends supplementing with at least 500 IU per day.
2. Stress Management
Stress increases cortisol levels within the body. This increase in cortisol also promotes inflammation. Increased Inflammation in the body forces the release of fatty acids into the blood stream. The result is increased cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Consider taking up a daily meditation practice or other mind/body disciplines like yoga or pilates as a way to manage stress and subsequent cortisol and inflammation.
3. Cardiovascular Fitness
Though High Intensity Interval Training is the latest fitness craze, it is well-documented that consistent and moderate cardiovascular exercise is best for improving heart health and lowering blood pressure. Consider a balanced approach to cardio that includes: 3-4 days/week using a variety of equipment options such as: Stairstepper, elliptical, and treadmill - at the following intensities:
Steady State – Maintain the same moderate intensity heart rate throughout the entire duration of a 30-45 minute workout. This intensity should make you winded to the point that you work up a sweat, and cannot sing a song but, could say a few sentences at a time in conversation. Do this 1x/week.
Low Intensity – Maintain a light intensity throughout the entire duration of a 60 minute workout. For most people, this would include a long walk or an easy bike ride. This intensity should allow you to speak easily to a friend, break a light sweat, and generally leave you feeling re-energized. Do this 1-2x/week.
Anaerobic Intervals – Include bouts of high intensity mixed with lower intensity. You should establish an aerobic base before adding anaerobic intervals into your cardio mix. It is recommended that you complete 2-4 weeks of steady state and low intensity workouts first (2-3 workouts/week for 2-4 weeks), before adding in anaerobic intervals.
An example of anaerobic intervals include; running for 1min, then walking for 1min. Or, walking at a steep incline for 1 min. and then walking with no incline for 1 min. During high intensity bouts, you should feel breathless and unable to speak a full sentence. Use the easy interval to recover and get your heart rate back down to where you can speak 2-3 sentences in conversation.
Looking to improve heart health and prevent heart disease takes a balanced approach. The key is consistency and finding a way to make positive changes in all areas of nutrition, stress, and exercise. Start in the areas that you can make the most immediate impact and add from there. You will add years to your life and of course, life to your years!
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