Written by Amber Moore, BSc, ND
Heart Disease is still the #1 cause of death in North America, and for good reason – society’s ever-stressful and busy lifestyle, reliance on convenience foods and lack of physical activity makes the heart a ticking time-bomb. Good news is that heart disease is predominantly a lifestyle disease, meaning change your lifestyle, and you can significantly change your risk of disease. To help you achieve this, for February (Heart Month) we have highlighted 10 easy steps to better your heart health and help prevent cardiovascular disease. Your ticker will thank you!
1) Measure your Middle
In comparison to your overall weight, the circumference of your waist matters more with respect to cardiovascular health. Research shows that excess abdominal fat raises blood pressure, raises cholesterol (LDL) and blood lipid levels, and increases one’s risk of mortality overall – a systematic review of the research found a 58-83% increased risk of all-cause death in those with central obesity (Coutinho 2011).
What to do about it: Although abdominal exercises are good for other reasons, unfortunately it isn’t the best way to lose abdominal fat – the body does not selectively burn fat in certain areas, so overall weight loss by eating healthy and exercising is key.
*Stay tuned for our upcoming group weight loss program to help you achieve this goal!
2) Be Friends with Fiber
Incorporating fiber, especially soluble fiber, in your diet has been shown to help decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels – soluble fiber actually binds to cholesterol in the intestinal tract to aid in its removal from the body. Good sources of soluble fiber include steel-cut oats, asparagus, sweet potato, avacado, black beans, brussel sprouts and chia seeds.
*Check out how to make my current guilty pleasure – delicious vegan avocado chocolate pudding – by clicking here.
3) Eat More Fish
Studies have shown that consumption of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, herring, and sardines) can reduce your risk of heart disease by a third or more. Try eating fish 2-3 times per week, or take a fish oil supplement that gives you 1500-2000mg omega 3’s. Concerned about mercury levels? Check out this consumer guide to mercury in fish from the National Resources Defense Council here.
4) Keep Moving
You all know that exercise is good for you, but did you know that sitting is acutally bad for you? That’s what recent evidence in JAMA, one of the most respected medical journals, has discovered – they found that individuals who sit for 8 or more hours a day are at increased risk of all-cause death, and the more hours sitting, the greater the risk, independant of how physically active the individual was otherwise. Those with greater than 11 hours of sitting a day had a hazards ratio of 1.40, which represents a 40% increased risk of all-cause death in comparison to those who sit less than 8 hours (Hidde 2012). Scary. We wouldn’t suggest you quit your job of course, but now you have a valid reason to take frequent breaks at the office!
5) Laughter is the Best Medicine
You probably wouldn’t expect a medical expert to tell you to watch a funny show to better your health, but it’s the truth! A number of studies have found laughter to be great for our health, because laughter reduces stress and therefore lowers cortisol levels. Since mental stress is associated with damage to the endothelium (the inner lining of our blood vessels) and impaired blood vessel function, a daily dose of laughter could be just what the doctor ordered. One study found a 30-50% difference in blood vessel diameter when comparing laughter to mental stress, noting that these findings are relatively comparable to benefits seen with exercise or statins (Miller 2011).
6) Go Nuts (for Nuts)
As part of the Mediterranean diet, it’s no surprise that nuts such as almonds and walnuts are good for our heart health. Research has found that almonds and walnuts are both able to lower LDL cholesterol levels (Jenkins 2002) which helps decrease your overall cardiovascular disease risk. To reap the rewards, have a handful of almonds or walnuts as a mid afternoon snack – just make sure they are raw (unroasted) because heat degrades their healthy fats.
7) Avoid the Salt Shaker
We all know that excess sodium in our diet isn’t a good thing, but since we are talking about heart health it is worth the reminder. Researchers have been noticing the population wide implications of our standard North American diet for decades, and according to recent findings, reducing dietary sodium intake by 1200mg (around the advised daily maximum) would reduce the number of new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke in half (Bibbins-Domingo 2010). So minimal use of the salt shaker and limited consumption of packaged foods may be well worth it, and since your taste buds acclimatize over time you likely won’t even miss it.
8) Don’t Skip the Dentist
Good dental hygeine does much more than keep your smile glistening – it also affects your overall health. According to research from Harvard, oral health issues may lead to many cardiovascular health concerns including coronary heary disease. How? Several theories exist, but current thought is that those with oral inflammation risk allowing bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream, which seems to cause vascular damage and plaque formation long term.
9) Quit Smoking
Cigarette smoking is one of the top controllable risk factors for heart disease, so get the help you need to nix the habit.
*Naturopathic Doctors can provide excellent support to help you quit smoking by looking at the root cause of the problem – identifying and addressing your unique triggers to smoke, while helping manage stress levels and promote detoxification as you quit.
10) Save Time for Tea Time
Besides the benefit of reducing stress levels by giving yourself some “me” time, drinking tea may also lower your risk of heart disease – one study noted a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke in those who drank more than 5 cups of green tea a day (Kokubo 2013). Many teas including green and black tea have flavonoids and other antioxidants to help keep inflammation at bay to help prevent vascular damage.
Happy Heart Health month!
~Amber Moore, BSc (Hons), ND
Amber is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor practicing as part of The Wylde Natural Health Team. She enjoys helping patients with a variety of health concerns, and has a special interest in sports medicine and pain management, skin and digestive concerns, weight loss and mental health. In addition to her private practice, Amber is currently part of the competitive Clinical Residency program at CCNM, teaching naturopathic therapies to students and supervising fourth year interns at the college’s teaching clinics.
Read more about Amber on her Bio Page
Bibbins-Domingo K et al. Projected effect of dietary salt reductions on future cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med 2010; 362:590-599
Miller et al. Laughter has a positive aspect on vascular function. University of Maryland School of Medicine. Aug 2011. http://www.escardio.org/about/press/press-releases/esc11-paris/Pages/laughter-vascular-function.aspx
Kokubo Y et al. The impact of green tea and coffee consumption on the reduced risk of stroke incidence in Japanese population. Stroke. March 2013. http://www.stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/03/14/STROKEAHA.111.677500.full.pdf
Hidde V, Tien C, Rosemary J et al. Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 austrialian adults. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(6):494-500
Coutinho T et al. Central obesity and survival in subjects with coronary artery disease. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;57 (19):1877-1886.