5 Super Simple Ways to Make Your Heart Healthier & Happier
By: Corinne Dobbas, MS, RD
Sometimes you don’t fully realize how you should be taking care of yourself. Yet, you know you should. You’ve heard the words hundreds of times, but it hasn’t resonated. It’s like you’re a child being told by your parents to clean your room. You know you should do it—I mean, your room is filthy—but, you just really don’t want to do it or think you can do it tomorrow. So, the cleaning gets put off and another day goes by of a dirty uncared for room. Until finally, one day, the piles of clothes get so high that you’re forced to clean your living quarters because otherwise you’d have nowhere else to go!
Care for Your Heart Like You Clean Your Room—All the Time!
This may sound silly, but this is how it is for a lot of folks who get diagnosed with heart disease, a largely preventative disease. They stop taking care of themselves and seemingly, all of a sudden, one day they’ve got heart disease. And for this article’s purposes, when I say heart disease, I’m referring to cardiovascular disease, which involves narrowed or blocked blood vessels. It’s this narrowing or blockage of vessels that can stop blood flow to the heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke, respectively. Examples of conditions that cause heart disease are high cholesterol or triglycerides, high blood pressure, inactivity, diabetes, and blood vessel inflammation. These health concerns can lead to heart disease. They are the result of letting the clothes, or rather artery plaque buildup and pile high, causing blocks, and preventing blood from properly flowing to the heart, brain, and throughout the body. Once these precursors to heart disease develop, a plan of action needs to be put in place (if they’re recognized) before heart disease further develops.
Now, if the clothes had been picked up all along, the room would never need a full-on, hard-core cleaning. The same goes with the body. If we took care of ourselves all these years, we’d likely never need to get in there and unclog vessels to the heart or brain (typically, what happens when heart disease becomes more severe) or worse yet—be unable to unclog them or repair because damage is so severe.
Now, my goal is not to make you obsessively clean your room or become a heart-disease hypochondriac. However, my goal is to educate, inform and kick your rear into good ol’ high-fashioned health gear, so you take care of your heart before anything negative develops.
Why Should You Care?
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women and more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. For men, the stats aren’t looking so hot either. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US for men, responsible for 1 out of every 4 deaths. Don’t be feeling hopeless. Remember, heart disease—for the most part—is preventable. Now, let’s check out how you can step closer to a healthier heart starting now.
What Can You Do? 5 Things to Make Your Heart Healthier & Happier
- Eat more lycopene: Lycopene is an antioxidant associated with cardiovascular health. It’s been shown to protect against inflammation and some cancers, including: colorectal, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers. Tomatoes, specifically tomato products because cooked tomatoes allow lycopene to be better absorbed by the body, are responsible for more than 80% of lycopene in the US diet. Furthermore, they’re loaded with Vitamin C, Beta-carotene and Vitamin E—other antioxidants that prevent against inflammation in the body and in turn, heart disease. One research study followed 40,000 healthy women for more than seven years. During follow-up, those who consumed 7 to 10 servings each week of lycopene-rich foods (tomato-based products, including tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce and pizza) were found to have a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to women eating less than 1.5 servings of tomato products weekly. Women who ate more than 2 servings each week of oil-based tomato products, particularly tomato sauce and pizza, had an even better result-a 34% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Eat more produce: There are many reasons why you should dish up more of nature’s skittles aka fruits and veggies. But, the main ones for heart health are: 1) Produce is loaded with antioxidants, phytochemicals, and micronutrients to combat inflammation, promote health, and promote immunity. For example, tomatoes are a good source of potassium, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate. In a cup of tomato, you get 11.4% of the daily value (DV) for potassium, 5.6% of the DV for niacin, 7% of the DV for B6, and 6.8% of the DV for folate. Potassium helps maintain a healthy blood pressure, niacin promotes healthy cholesterol; and Vitamin B6 and folate help keep blood vessels healthy; 2) Produce is full of belly-filling fiber, which helps control blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and promote a healthy weight—all helping to keep your ticker ticking. 3) Fruits and veggies are low calorie and super nutrient dense, allowing your body to be nourished properly while you maintain a healthy weight, putting less stress on your heart and blood vessels and arteries. A half-cup of tomatoes has only 32 calories; a whole medium tomato has only 20 calories.
- Eat more healthy fats: Swap saturated fat (from animal products, think fattier cuts of meat, full or reduced-fat dairy, bacon, franks, or sausage) and trans fat (mostly in processed foods, think pastries, convenience foods, microwave popcorn) for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like nuts and seeds, avocados, olive and canola oil. And don’t forget about sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish. Examples include: mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon. The American Heart Association recommends two 3.5 ounce servings of fatty fish per week. And don’t forget about plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids: chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds! Add a tablespoon of one of these to your oats, cereal, salads, soups, or casseroles for a healthy fat bonus! Note: if using flaxseeds, be sure to grind them. Your body can’t digest and absorb all the seeds’ nutrients when they’re whole.
- Beware of salt & added sugars: For heart health, try to keep sodium down to 1,500-2000 milligrams per day. Beware of canned and processed foods—the biggest source of sodium. Check the nutrition facts panel and if sodium is over 20% of the DV it is super high in sodium—you want less. Five percent or less is considered low sodium on a label. And try to use herbs and spices instead of salt or high-sodium marinades when cooking. In regards to sugar, the easiest thing to do first is to cut out all the sugary beverages, like coffee drinks, sweet teas, and sodas and swap to water, seltzer, or simply water with lemon. To find added sugars in products, read the ingredients and look for terms like high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, sugar, honey, agave, fruit juice concentrate, syrup, or raw sugar. You want to limit these.
- Destress: According to the American Psychological Association, 22% of Americans are extremely stressed! This affects your heart and not in a good way! Being constantly stressed can send your body into a state of overdrive, making you hold on to more fat & for those stress eaters, can make you eat more—all putting more pressure on your heart. Find ways to distress—exercise is a great mode. Simply find something you like and no, it doesn’t have to be a gym. Any type of movement counts! Bike riding, soccer, pilates, running, workout DVDs. Also, try this breathing exercise: breathe in for 10 breathes (counting it out in thousands, 1 one-thousand, 2 one-thousand, 3 one-thousand etc); HOLD your breath for 10 seconds, again counting it out; and finally, exhale for 10 seconds, counting it out. Repeat 2-3 times. Instant stress relief!
Bottom line: Heart disease typically takes years to develop and is preventable. Once you put the basics into play you can inch closer to a healthier ticker starting tomorrow! And tomatoes and tomato products will be there to make your journey fun, tasty, and healthy! Cheers to a healthy heart!
How do you take care of your heart?
Corinne Dobbas, MS, RD is a San Francisco-based registered dietitian, specializing in nutrition, health communications, and social media. She develops news segments for television stations, writes articles for various health and wellness sites, speaks at conferences, frequently guests for wellness groups in the online social media realm, counsels, and serves as a nutrition and social media consultant. Most recently, she just started a podcast radio show as well! Passionate about empowering people to reach and maintain a state of optimal wellness, Corinne strives to help people cultivate the best, healthiest, and happiest “you” there is. To learn more about Corinne, visit http://www.corinnedobbas.com/.