Lifestyle and diet changes are critical when it comes to reducing your risk of heart disease. If you haven’t already done so, here are four important changes you should consider.
Exercise is critical to almost every level of well being. A recent study showed that just 15 minutes of exercise per day will add three years to your lifespan, even if you already have heart disease. An additional 15 minutes further reduced mortality by an additional 4%.
Insulin resistance is an underlying factor in almost all chronic diseases that shorten life, including heart disease. Exercise is crucial to longevity because it promotes healthy insulin levels. In a culture like ours that consumes far too much sugar and other refined carbohydrates, daily exercise is crucial.
Still, as important as exercise is, it only comprises about 20% of a healthy lifestyle. The other 80% involves nutrients.
Study after study continues to link heart disease with a lack of vitamin D. In other words, the less sunshine you get, the greater your risk of heart disease. Sunlight, due to the vitamin D it produces in your body, increases your body’s natural anti-inflammatory response, decreases vascular calcification and also decreases vascular smooth muscle growth. All this leads to a healthier heart.
Some recent studies are even challenging the links between the sun exposure and skin cancer. Most Americans don’t receive adequate sun exposure, especially during the winter months, and are therefore deficient in vitamin D. It is important to have your doctor check your vitamin D levels to determine if supplementation may be required.
Avoidance of High Glycemic Carbs
Several studies show a link between high consumption of simple carbohydrates and heart disease. A recent study showed that women who eat high amounts of high glycemic carbs, such as white rice and white bread, are twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to those who eat the least amounts.
A diet high in refined sugars and grains, such as bread, pizza, pasta, pancakes, bagels and rice, increases insulin resistance which is harmful to your heart.
Finally, as I continue to promote prevention rather than just treatment of symptoms, it’s important to recognize the power of pomegranate in avoiding the numerous pathological changes related to heart disease. Scientists believe pomegranate has important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that fight the growth of undesirable muscle cells in blood vessel walls as well as lower LDL, or bad cholesterol. In one study, pomegranate juice outperformed numerous other antioxidants, including grape juice, blueberry juice and red wine, in reducing the damaging effects of free radicals. Other studies have suggested pomegranate may not just help prevent heart disease; it may even help reverse it.
When compared to other countries, Americans have significantly more heart disease and for one reason alone: the toxic state of the Standard American Diet. What you eat is the single most important factor when it comes to your health. While God created many foods to nourish and protect our bodies, a few stand out when it comes to heart health.
Pomegranate – One of the most amazing foods when it comes to helping protect the heart is the pomegranate. The pomegranate has unique properties allowing it to help protect the inner walls of the arteries from damage. More and more research is showing pomegranate may even have the ability to reverse atherosclerosis. I recommend 2 ounces of quality pomegranate juice per day. Supplements are also available.
Blueberries – When it comes to harnessing the power of antioxidants, blueberries rank number one when compared to other fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help neutralize the damaging effects of free radicals that can lead to numerous diseases including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Specific to the heart, the antioxidants in blueberries work to help reduce your cholesterol, decreasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. I recommend a cup of organic fresh or frozen blueberries every day.
Salmon – Oily fish like salmon contain beneficial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, or “good fat.” Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce your level of triglycerides. Triglycerides are “bad fats” in the blood increasing your risk of heart disease. Omega-3s also help keep the blood thin, reducing the risk of clots from sticking to arterial walls, a primary cause of fatal heart attacks. Omega-3’s also help reduce the occurrence of dangerous heart arrhythmias.
The American Heart Association recommends eating 3 to 6 ounces of oily fish at least twice per week. I recommend a good fish oil supplement as well. When it comes to fish and fish oil, it is very important to make sure it is clean. Cold water, wild fish and fish oils are less likely to contain harmful doses of antibiotics and toxic mercury. Steer away from farmed fish.
Spinach – Dark, leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard and collards offer high levels of heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Similar to in blueberries, these nutrients help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Spinach, in particular, is also high in folate. Folate helps reduce homocysteine, an amino acid produced by the body usually as a byproduct from consuming meat. When homocysteine is present in high levels in the blood it is associated with hardening and narrowing of the arteries, increased risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots. I recommend at least one cup a day of dark, leafy green vegetables.
Walnuts – While nuts in general are a beneficial part of a healthy diet, walnuts contain almost twice the antioxidants as other nuts. Walnuts also contain high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is associated with lower risk of heart attacks and blood clots. Nutrients in walnuts are also known for their vascular reactivity, or the ability of blood vessels to respond positively to changes in the environment.
Other heart-healthy superfoods deserving honorable mention include black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, citrus fruits, oatmeal, cinnamon, green tea, flaxseed.