Your heart is an incredible organ! It's cardiac muscle is designed to beat constantly. Everyday, your heart beats about 100,000 times, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood through your body's some 600,000 miles of blood vessels! In seventy years, your heart beats more than 2.5 billion times. Isn't your heart amazing?
So when your heart's function is impaired, it is imperative to pay attention. Cardiovascular disease refers to any condition that impairs the normal function of your heart and blood vessels. Heart disease is the leading health problem in the western world, but many people do not realize they have heart disease because they do not show any symptoms.
However, by taking proactive steps to reduce your risk of heart disease, you can enjoy a better quality of life.
Eat a nutritious diet
Have a regular plan for exercise
Control your cholesterol levels (See my previous article, Cholesterol Counts)
Manage your stress levels (My next featured article will be on stress management, so be sure to read the March newsletter!)
Laugh! Laughter is good for your heart, your mood, and your overall health.
Nutrition has a profound effect on health. And your heart requires nutritious food to keep it in good health. First, you need to determine your caloric needs, and then focus on meeting those needs with nutrient-dense foods. Many people eat more than enough calories, but are eating nutrient-poor foods that do not provide the nutrition they need. To keep your heart healthy, try to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and make sure to eat soluble and insoluble fiber. Add garlic and onions to your diet, they contain compounds helpful in managing cholesterol. Eat foods containing essential fatty acids: raw tree nuts, olive oil, cold-water fish are examples. Avoid white flour, refined sugars, salt, and saturated and trans fats. Avoid stimulants as much as you can. Studies have shown that coffee increases the stress hormones in your body, which puts your heart under greater stress and at greater risk for disease. If you don't want to cut out coffee completely, switch to a decaf version. Green tea has less caffeine than regular black; herbal teas are generally caffeine free and offer health benefits. Also be sure to drink plenty of water; a rule of 8 cups a day is recommended.
You may find it a challenge to prepare healthy meals at home, especially if you lead a busy lifestyle. The American Heart Association offers some great tips on shopping, planning, and preparing heart-healthy meals. They have numerous recipes available on their website, www.heart.org. Here are some of the tips they offered to help build the habit of eating healthier foods.
Plan meals ahead of time, it keeps you on track. Plan 2-4 weeks of healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Use the weekend to make menus.
Cook some dishes ahead of time and store leftovers in the fridge or freezer.
Have fruits and vegetables sliced and ready for snacks and meals.
Exercise is vital to heart health, also. Exercise strengthens not only your heart, but every other system in your body. But you don't have to go to the gym every day to get the benefits of exercise. Research has shown that walking is one of the best exercises you can do, and almost anyone can do it. Walking can be done nearly anywhere, as long as you have good shoes and comfortable clothes. According to the American Heart Association, walking 30 minutes a day provides these benefits:
Reduce risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Enhance mental well-being
Reduce risk of osteoporosis
Reduce risk of breast and colon cancer
Reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
Increase energy and stamina
Prevent weight gain
If walking is not your style, just pick a form of exercises suitable for you, and go for it. When exercising, determine your target heart rate for maximum benefit. The AHA gives these general guidelines.
Find your resting heart rate. A good time to do this is first thing in the morning, before you get up. Take your pulse for 15 seconds, and multiply this number by 4 to get your resting beats per minute. It should be between 60 and 100.
Now, subtract your age from 220, this is your approximate maximum heart rate.
Then, multiply your max heart rate by 50 and 85%. This is your target heart rate range.
Of course, this is not a foolproof method to determine the intensity of your workout. Rather it is a general guideline. You should always get an OK from your doctor before you make any major changes. Here are five steps to help you stick to your plan.
1. Pick an exercise that suits you.
2. Make it a habit. It takes close to a month to establish a habit. Don't give up!
3. Build exercise into your lifestyle.
4. Do bouts of exercise. If you can't do 30 mins at a time, do 15 mins twice.
5. Keep going! Focus on the benefits of exercise, and the positive changes that come with it. You just might learn to love it!
In addition to a healthy lifestyle, some dietary supplements may be helpful to you. Here are a few supplements, and why they may be helpful to you, according to Prescription for Nutritional Healing.
Magnesium- Vital to proper muscular function, very important to cardiac muscle. Choose an easily-absorbed form.
Co-enzyme Q10- Helps increase oxygenation of heart tissue.
Kyolic Aged Garlic Extract- Reduces triglyceride levels in blood. It's also odorless!
Essential fatty acids- black currant oil, flaxseed oil, primrose, and salmon oil are good sources.
Vitamin C and bioflavonoids- important regulator of high blood pressure.
Pycnogenol- found to be more effective than aspirin in reducing buildup of platelets in arteries, which is a major risk factor in heart disease.
Cayenne- Is reported to help lower blood pressure, and is a blood thinner. Do not take if on other blood-thinning medicines.
“Green drinks”- such as barley juice powder, wheatgrass, etc. These are usually a blend of superfoods that contain powerful antioxidants and other helpful nutrients that provide your body with what it needs to rebuild and replenish cells. When your cells are nourished, you feel better and have more energy and a better mood, so it's not just good for your heart!
As with anything, supplements cannot take the place of a healthy lifestyle, they work best in conjunction with a good diet and exercise. Always check with your doctor before making major lifestyle changes, and before changing your medications and supplements.
Here is a recipe I found on American Heart Association's website that I plan to try, and thought you may like to also!
Until next time!
Tortilla Soup with Grilled Chicken
2 6-inch corn tortillas, halved, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
8 oz. canned, no-salt-added tomato sauce
6 oz. cubed, skinless grilled chicken breast, cooked without salt, all visible fat discarded
1 small yellow summer squash (about 4 ounces), diced
1 small zucchini (about 4 ounces), diced
1/2 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
1 tsp. salt-free, all-purpose seasoning blend
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup shredded, low-fat Cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange the tortilla strips in a single layer on the baking sheet. Lightly spray with cooking spray.
Bake for 10 minutes, or until crisp.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the remaining ingredients except the Cheddar to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle the soup with the tortilla strips and Cheddar.