6 Easy Ways to Be Heart-Healthy

You already know that eating a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart disease. [1] But there are plenty of other lifestyle choices that can help keep your ticker in top shape. Here are six simple strategies to put into practice.

Floss Your Teeth

Your teeth aren’t near your heart, but there is a link between gum care and a healthy heart. Studies have shown that people who have gum disease also have higher rates of heart disease. Researchers don’t know exactly why, but the same inflammation that causes gum disease could be responsible for heart problems. Keep gum disease in check with daily flossing (before bedtime is ideal), and talk to your doctor about any dental issues you’ve had recently and what it could mean for your overall health. [2, 3]

Consider Getting a Pet

Having a pet, and a dog in particular, has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The reasons aren’t clear, but researchers believe that those frisky canines’ regular walks may play a role. (Pet owners may also have healthier lifestyles to begin with.) Playing with animals is also great for reducing and managing stress. If owning a pet isn’t practical for you, you might want to ask a friend if you could walk his dog from time to time, or consider volunteering at an animal shelter. No matter what the reason, animals are good for your heart in more ways than one. [4]

Start Your Day With Breakfast

Ever since you were a child, you’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Don’t let that mantra slip by the wayside as you get older -- and busier. Eating breakfast high in fiber has been shown to be helpful in lowering levels of harmful LDL cholesterol. [5] A morning meal also helps kick-start your metabolism.[5, 6] Aim for a mix of fiber, low-fat protein, and whole grains to start the day. [5, 6]

Look for Fun Ways to Stay Active

A hard workout isn’t the only physical activity that treats your heart well. A study found that middle-aged adults who spent at least a decade doing leisure-time activities that involved physical movement had lower inflammatory markers, which can be a risk factor for heart disease, than those who didn’t. [7] Gardening is not only a great way to stay active but the bounty can give your heart another boost: Fresh fruits and vegetables are key to a healthy diet, and they almost always taste best when they come from your own garden. [8] If gardening doesn’t appeal to you, consider riding a bike, taking a dance class, fishing, or paddling a kayak. [7]

Eat Chocolate

Here’s some health news that’s good to bite into: Eating moderate amounts of chocolate has been linked to a lower risk of heart failure in middle-aged men and women, compared to eating no chocolate at all. [9] Cocoa consumption may also help reduce blood pressure. [9] So go ahead and enjoy dark chocolate (at least 60 percent cacao to get the highest amount of antioxidants) on a regular basis. Just remember, a small portion (about 1 ounce) is all you need to get the heart-healthy benefit without consuming too many extra calories. [10]

Lift Weights

Exercise recommendations for your heart are usually all about cardio, cardio, cardio. Getting your heart pumping is vital, but strength training is important, too. One large review found that isometric resistance training lowered blood pressure even more than a walking program. [11] People who lift weights are also less likely to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health conditions that combine to become a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. [12] If you’re new to exercise, use your own body weight for resistance as you do basic movements like push-ups (you can do them against a wall while standing up or on the floor), squats, and sit-ups. Gradually incorporate exercises that require light weights or resistance bands, like bicep curls and leg extensions. [13] Keep in mind that it is best to speak with your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

SOURCES:

1. American Heart Association: Nutrition

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Nutrition-Center_UCM_001188_SubHomePage.jsp

Accessed 8/8/2013

2. American Academy of Periodontology: Gum Disease and Heart Disease:

http://www.perio.org/consumer/heart_disease

Accessed 8/8/2013

3. Preventing Periodontal Disease

http://www.perio.org/node/510

Accessed 8/8/2013

4. Glenn N. Levine, Karen Allen, Lynne T. Braun, Hayley E. Christian, Erika Friedmann, Kathryn A. Taubert, Sue Ann Thomas, Deborah L. Wells, and Richard A. Lange. 

Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.

Circulation, May 9 2013

5. Cleveland Clinic: Heart Healthy Breakfast

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/askdietician/ask11_01.aspx

Accessed 8/8/2013

6. Mayo Clinic: Healthy Breakfast

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/food-and-nutrition/NU00197/METHOD=print

Accessed 8/8/2013

7. Mark Hamer, Severine Sabia, G. David Batty, Martin J. Shipley, Adam G. Tabàk, Archana Singh-Manoux, and Mika Kivimaki. 

Physical Activity and Inflammatory Markers Over 10 Years: Follow-Up in Men and Women from the Whitehall II Cohort Study

Circulation, 2012

8. American Heart Association: Why We Garden

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/HealthierKids/TeachingGardens/Why-We-Garden_UCM_436620_SubHomePage.jsp

Accessed 8/8/2013

9. Elizabeth Mostofsky Emily B. Levitan Alicja Wolk and Murray A. Mittleman

Chocolate Intake and Incidence of Heart Failure: A Population-Based, Prospective Study of Middle-Aged and Elderly Women

CIRCHEARTFAILURE.110.944025

 

10. University of Michigan Integrative Medicine: Dark Chocolate

http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm

Accessed 8/8/2013

11. Robert D. Brook et al

Beyond Medications and Diet: Alternative Approaches to Lowering Blood Pressure: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association

Hypertension. published online April 22, 2013

12. Magyari, Peter M.; Churilla, James R.

Association Between Lifting Weights and Metabolic Syndrome among U.S. Adults: 1999–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

 Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:

November 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 11 - p 3113–3117

13. AAOS Seniors and Exercise: Starting an Exercise Program

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00531

Accessed 8/8/2013

Bone Up: Tips to Help Maintain Bone Health

Through no fault of your own, aging and hormones wreak havoc on your bones. Adults reach peak bone mass in their 30s. In the 10 years after menopause, women can lose up to 40 percent of their inner bone and 10 percent of their outer bone. [1]. But it’s not just women who need to be vigilant -- up to a quarter of men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. [2] However, osteoporosis is not inevitable; there are ways to help reduce the amount of bone you lose as you age. Here are four strategies you can use to slow the slide. [edit, information below]

Hit Your Daily Calcium Target

Remember when Mom used to say, “Drink your milk to grow up big and tall?” She was right. Calcium, which is prevalent in dairy products, is the mineral that nourishes bone tissue. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), women over age 50 [3] should strive for 1,200mg/day, while men over age 70 should aim to get 1,200mg/day. [3] The NOF also recommends getting your calcium through food sources rather than pills, if possible. [3] This is easy to do since there are many healthful sources you can incorporate into your meals throughout the day: milk on your morning cereal, a salad full of leafy greens for lunch, a snack of a few squares of reduced-fat cheese, and broccoli at dinner. [3] While leafy greens are a good source of calcium, the calcium in these foods is not absorbed as well as the calcium found in dairy products, so be sure that veggies are not your only source of this important nutrient. [4]

Invest in Your D-fense

When it comes to bone health, vitamin D is vital, enabling the body to utilize all that calcium you’re eating. [3] The NOF recommends men and women under age 50 get 400 to 800 International Units (IU) daily; 800 to 1,000 IU if older. [3] However, it’s challenging to hit that target with food alone. (Fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon, mackerel, and tuna are the best natural sources.) That’s why most experts recommend using vitamin D supplements to get your daily dose [3] -- just check with your doctor about any potential side effects and for the best option to meet your lifestyle and needs. [edit, 3]

Exercise This Way

Swimming and bicycling are great for weight control and heart health, but because the body is supported while doing them (by the water or bike) your bones don’t receive much direct benefit. The solution is to add strength training to your workout regime. Bone responds to weight lifting like muscle does. Also, consider swapping one or two of your weekly swims or rides with a weight-bearing activity like walking, hiking, stair climbing, or tennis. [5] 

Take Advantage of Your Annual Checkup

Your doctor has reliable ways to monitor all facets of your bone health and gauge your ongoing risk of osteoporosis. At your next checkup, share your family’s medical history (a large component of the disease is genetic). And ask if you’re a good candidate for a bone density test or one of the blood or urine tests that measure vitamin D and calcium levels. [6]

SOURCES:

1.American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Healthy Bones at Every Age

http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00127

Accessed 7/28/2013

2. National Osteoporosis Foundation: Just for Men

http://www.nof.org/articles/236

Accessed 7/28/2013

3. National Osteoporosis Foundation: Calcium and Vitamin D: What You Need to Know

http://www.nof.org/articles/10

Accessed 7/28/2013

4. NIH ODS: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet Calcium

http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

Accessed 9/3/13

5.National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Exercise for Your Bone Health

http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Exercise/

Accessed 7/28/2013

6. National Osteoporosis Foundation: Making a Diagnosis

http://www.nof.org/articles/8

Accessed 7/28/2013

Derail Digestive Culprits Now

Chances are, some of your favorite foods and beverages are fatty, sweet, creamy or “heavy” in some way. Eating too much of anything can certainly do a number on your digestive system, but the ingredients in many beloved foods and drinks may be causing belly aches, discomfort or worse. We asked registered dietitian Lisa Stollman which foods will leave you feeling less than fabulous, and what to eat instead.

1. Avoid fried foods.

Go very easy on full-fat cheeses and fried appetizers. They may taste good, but it’s likely you’ll pay the price that same night or the next day, according to Healthline.com.

Fatty foods cause indigestion in two distinct ways. Fats lower the pressure of the esophageal sphincter, which is at the top of the stomach, allowing stomach acids to come back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn, says Stollman. The second way fats can cause GI distress: They take longer to digest than proteins or carbohydrates. They stay in your stomach longer, which can lead to bloating, gas and either diarrhea or constipation.

Stick with the fresh vegetables, salads and lean protein, such as boiled shrimp and grilled chicken, as often as possible to feel like yourself the next morning.

2. Limit alcohol to weekends (if at all).
Too much alcohol can leave your tummy feeling uncomfortable or just “off” the next day. Before you head to any gathering, decide how much you’re going to drink and stick with it. Two drinks at a party should be enough, says Stollman. Begin the night with a glass of sparkling water, and sip another glass of water or club soda with each alcoholic beverage to stay hydrated and help your body process the alcohol.

3. Don’t forget about fiber.

When rich, special foods call your name, it’s all too easy to forget about leafy salads, healthy vegetables and fresh fruits that you normally eat. But skimping on fiber can actually leave you bloated and gassy.

Fiber is divided into two categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber attracts water to form a gel that slows digestion and helps you feel full; it’s present in some fruits, seeds and nuts. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is a gut-healthy fiber that adds bulk to your stool and can help with occasional constipation and regularity. 

One of the most concentrated sources of fiber is wheat bran, and a good way to get your fill of fiber is to start your day with a serving of Kellogg’s® All-Bran® cereal with milk. One serving contains 10 grams of fiber -- specifically, wheat bran -- which can help waste products move through your body for regular waste elimination.

4. Beware of excessive desserts.

We all know they taste great, but overdoing it on rich, fatty desserts can wreak havoc on your digestive system. In addition to sugar, desserts are usually made with lots of butter or shortening. Fatty foods slow down the emptying of the stomach and may take longer for you to digest, possibly worsening constipation.

Conversely, an overload of fatty foods -- or even two that don’t mix well together -- may speed up movement and lead to diarrhea, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What to do: Have a small piece of one or two desserts and call it a night. Or avoid them altogether and curb your sweet tooth with a serving of a wholesome cereal (one that might do the trick is Kellogg's® Special K® Oats & Honey -- it’s so sweet and crunchy, milk is optional). Remember, fresh fruit is always a good option too!