Simple preventive measures, including maintaining the right mix of healthy lifestyle habits, rather than drugs or surgery, are the best way to achieve optimal cardiovascular function. Use the following to promote the health of your heart:
- Exercise. Regular, moderate exercise helps maintain the health of blood vessels, strengthens the heart muscle itself, and can help reduce heart disease risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and stress. Aim for 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week. For individual guidance, consult a personal trainer.
- Lose weight. Even a modest amount of weight loss can significantly lower cardiovascular risks.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, and has negative health consequences for your entire body, from your taste buds to your energy levels to your skin. Seek support and guidance in quitting.
- Manage stress. Uncontrolled stress can raise blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and homocysteine levels. Practice breath work, meditation, guided imagery, visualization or another relaxation technique, and participate in regular moderate exercise (including yoga and T’ai chi), stay social, and laugh often.
- Reduce intake of saturated fats. They can contribute to high cholesterol; avoid whole-fat dairy foods such as cheese, cream and milk, as well as red meat.
- Limit consumption of trans-fats. Found in most margarines, snack foods, heavily processed foods and some cooking oils, these fats (often listed on food labels as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil) can reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.
- Eat some nuts every day. Nuts, especially almonds, walnuts and cashews contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
- Substitute whole soy protein for animal protein. Excessive animal protein has been shown to raise homocysteine levels. Aim for two servings of whole soy protein, such as tofu or edamame, per day.
- Use fresh garlic regularly. This traditionally medicinal herb has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. Use one or two raw or lightly cooked cloves a day.
- Drink green tea daily. It provides EGCG, a polyphenol than may help to moderate inflammation and lower cholesterol.
- Eat plenty of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has a powerful cholesterol-lowering effect. Beans, legumes and whole grains are good sources.
- Limit refined carbohydrates. A diet full of cookies, cakes, crackers, fluffy breads, chips and sodas can increase triglyceride levels and lower HDL.
- Limit sodium intake. Excessive sodium has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Avoid processed meals and canned foods, taste foods before you salt them and do not add salt while cooking, avoid foods that are visibly salted and read labels (aim for no more than 1,500 mg sodium per day).
- Fish oil. Several studies have linked omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil with a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as lowered triglyceride levels and reduced blood pressure.
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This is a powerful antioxidant that promotes the efficient utilization of energy at the cellular level and is especially beneficial to the heart muscle. It is a particularly important supplement for those who take cholesterol-lowering statin medications, which can inhibit the body’s ability to synthesize CoQ10.
- B vitamins. Low levels of B vitamins have been associated with increased blood levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid linked to heart disease risk.
- Vitamin C. This antioxidant vitamin has been shown to help lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension.