“Affairs of the Heart” Part 2

“Affairs of the Heart”
Part 2

by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher

In our first installment of “Affairs of the Heart” we looked at the symptoms of different types of serious cardiovascular ailments.  Of course, we’d all prefer never to get to a crisis situation, and to work toward that goal, in this second installment of our heart health story, we’ll look at some life factors that we can control to improve our odds of keeping a healthy cardiovascular system.  We’ll examine some dietary cautions, as well as sleep concerns, and exercise.

Nutrition Tips and Supplement Information:

Instead of embarking on a formal “diet”, consider how many small, daily tweaks you can make to your food intake to improve nutrition and cardiovascular health.  A few suggestions are listed below.

              Add a side of fresh fruit or cooked (or fresh) vegetables to your main course at a restaurant.  The extra fiber and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals) will help your health in general, and in particular, will help to clear excess fat and cholesterol from your digestive tract.
              Remember to work in several servings of avocados, flax, olive oil, and fish into your weekly meals to get healthy fats and anti-inflammatory benefits.
              Whenever possible, choose free-range eggs, meats, and wild caught fish.  These more “natural” protein sources have a healthier spectrum of fats and micronutrients and bring with them anti-inflammatory properties for the cardiovascular system.
              Many people should consider supplementing with CoQ10, turmeric, resveratrol, and magnesium.  All of these substances are excellent for heart health and blood pressure.  Turmeric is widely regarded in a positive manner for its anti-inflammatory properties throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system.
              When cooking at home in a time crunch, think of using ground meats (beef, chicken, turkey, or pork) or any meat in small chunks or strips thrown in a pot with a variety of fresh, frozen, or even canned vegetables and seasoned simply with a “season all” type seasoning mixture, or alternatively, a few of your favorite herbs.  Such meat/veggie one-pot combos are highly nutritious, tasty, quick, and good for your cardiovascular system.  Look for lean meat choices.  If the only readily available ground meat is high fat, you can ask the butcher to grind a higher priced, lean cut for you.  No, you’re not committing culinary heresy to grind a lean and expensive cut of meat; you’re looking out for your health and reducing your food preparation time.
            For a vegetarian alternative, substitute beans or peas for the meat in these delicious one-pot combos.  Beans and peas are very “heart healthy”, inexpensive, and full of protein and fiber.

For those persons wishing to give themselves an additional edge against cardiovascular disease through natural therapies and supplements, the following list of suggestions could be of great value:

            •Coenzyme Q10 increases oxygenation of the heart and improves overall function.
            •Garlic extract lowers homocysteine levels, a heart disease risk factor, and thins the blood slightly.
            • Vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid help maintain healthy homocysteine and C-reactive protein levels.  Measuring C-reactive protein levels is a way of detecting inflammation in the cardiovascular system, which can lead to heart attacks even when other risk factors are normal.
            •Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are very important to regulating blood pressure.
            •Calcium and magnesium are extremely important to the proper functioning of the heart muscle.  Magnesium is probably the most overlooked key to lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels discussed by the mainstream media.  Take calcium and magnesium in divided doses.  Use chelate forms of both minerals.
            •Lycopene is a carotenoid that lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol.
            •Phosphatidyl choline reduces fat and triglyceride levels in the blood.
            •Pycnogenol reduces buildup of plaques in the arteries.
            •Acupuncture treatments can lower blood pressure and improve circulation.

            Although the above list is not exhaustive, it is a good place to start on improved cardiovascular health.  Of course, always consult with your physician before taking supplements to avoid any “contraindications” with your prescription medicines or personal health problems.  Always take positive action to reduce your chances of cardiovascular disease.

            About Healthy Sleep Habits:

            When we get especially busy or stressed by life’s hassles, sleep is often the first thing to suffer.  Either we skimp on the number of hours we rest, or we try to sleep and find that our sleep quality is poor, or sometimes non-existent, due to our restless minds working overtime and keeping us awake.
            More and more scientific studies keep showing the importance of sleep to our overall health and to heart health as well.  Research clearly shows that sleep deprivation increases blood sugar levels and the tendency toward obesity and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
            Even more directly related to increased heart disease risk is the fact that more hours awake equal more hours that the heart must operate at a higher level of functioning without a rest break.  Blood pressure and heart rate tend to drop while soundly sleeping.  Many hours of wakefulness without a chance to “power down” puts unnecessary strain on the heart and cardiovascular system in general.
            Experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per day for most adults.  There are some people who simply don’t need that much sleep and find it stressful to stay in bed for that long.  Those individuals should follow their bodies’ cues regarding an appropriate length of rest.

            Exercise for Extended Existence:

            There’s nothing quite like exercise for keeping the cardiovascular system in good shape, and a number of activities can qualify as exercise.  Simple walking is one of the best forms of exercise for the cardiovascular system.  Recent research indicates that one of the best things for both general health and heart health in particular is to walk five times per week.  Thirty minutes per bout will suffice, but 45 minutes to an hour is even better if time permits.  Other activities helpful to the heart include: gardening, mopping floors, dancing, raking leaves, climbing stairs, shopping, walking in place while talking on the phone, and short but frequent exercise bouts during the commercials of T.V. shows.
            Of course, an organized, formal exercise program that incorporates elements of weight lifting, cardiovascular exertion, stretching, balance, and coordination is the best option, but if that “gold standard” of exercise excellence simply won’t fit into life right now, try some of the more commonplace activities listed in the paragraph above to improve cardiovascular fitness, and remember, some exercise is better than no exercise.

            A Quick Word About Stress:

            Too much stress is bad for the heart.  Long periods of emotional, mental, or physical stress can cause chronically elevated blood pressure and cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the body that increases the tendency toward high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and obesity, all of which are contributors to heart disease risk.  Work diligently to dial down stress, whether that means getting a different job, asking friends or family to pitch in with solving problems, or arranging a shorter commute to work.  Do whatever needs to be done to make your life a calmer and more peaceful journey.  Your heart will thank you.

            In Summary:

            There is much we can do to ease the workload of our hearts and cardiovascular systems.  Through dietary changes, exercise, stress and sleep interventions, and repaired interpersonal relationships, we can strengthen our hearts and our lives.  Let’s spring into action!

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