Protect Your Heart With These 5 Important Steps

Protect Your Heart With These 5 Important Steps

How is your heart treating you these days? Is it working as efficiently and effectively as you would like it to? Did you know that about 70,000 heart attacks happen each year and heart disease is the second leading killer for both men and women in Canada?  February is heart health awareness month, so all posts this month are dedicated to matters of the heart.
 
In today’s post we will share 5 steps on how to best reduce the natural progression of heart disease. So keep reading if you want to learn more. 
 
The good news is that heart disease is preventable. When it comes to heart health, prevention is actually one of the best tools Naturopathic Doctors can offer. Research has shown that diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle can positively impact the heart. Many people think that heart disease is only something to worry about as you get older, but healthy lifestyle choices at an early age can lower your risk of developing heart disease and other heart issues later in life. 
 

What Causes Heart Disease?

Heart disease is an umbrella category that refers to various different disorders which can all impact the heart. These include:
  • Heart attacks
  • Hypertension
  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Angina
  • Inflammation
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
 

What Are The Risk Factors For Developing Heart Disease?

  • Lack of exercise
  • High stress lifestyle
  • Poor diet that is heavy in processed foods
  • Tobacco consumption
  • Family history
  • Gender - Men are more prone to heart disease than women
  • Hypothyroidism
 
Simple, steady changes rooted in prevention can greatly impact how well the cardiovascular system functions.  Here are 5 steps to follow in your everyday life that will keep your heart healthy and pumping! 
 

5 Steps To A Healthy Heart

 

1. Step # 1: Practice One Mind-Body Therapy Exercise Everyday

Mind-body therapies (MBT) include deep breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, yoga and Tai chi. MBT are used commonly for stress, emotional health and general wellness. Stress management and coping skills have the ability to influence stress hormones like cortisol which can play a role in lowering cardiac risk. 
 
Relaxation techniques, like meditation, prayer or deep breathing exercises are used to activate the body’s natural relaxation response which brings along with it slower breathing, lowering blood pressure, more oxygen to the brain and a feeling of calmness. Studies have found that activities that promote relaxation are associated with reductions in blood pressure. 
 
Yoga practices cause an increased heart rate during activity but has the ability to train the heart  after prolonged training to actually reduce the heart rate during exercise. Studies have found that yoga can have a positive impact on weight, blood glucose management and cholesterol levels. There is research to show that there may be a difference between yoga and regular exercise. Varying levels of exercise intensity can affect the body’s stress response in a different way. Lower intensity workouts help to lower cortisol levels, while intense workouts can raise cortisol levels. 
 
Tai Chi also known as “moving meditation” involves slow and relaxed movements. Studies have shown reductions in blood pressure with regular Tai chi practice. As well, it has shown to be effective in the elderly who have chronic health conditions in terms of flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. 
 
 
Pick one of these MBT exercises that you resonate with, and make it a point to practice it each and everyday, even if it's for 10 minutes a day.
 
 

Step # 2: Follow The Meditarranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant-based foods, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy fats and using herbs and spices to season foods instead of salt.  It also includes fish, poultry, eggs, cheese a few times a week with meat and sweets less often. Fish and olive oil are encouraged while salt and refined/processed foods are discouraged. It is more a lifestyle than a diet and works to increase healthy foods while limiting highly inflammatory ones. 
 
 
Inflammation occurs when the body’s protective immune system attacks damaged tissues, including the arteries. A recent discovery is how whole body inflammation can contribute to heart disease.  There is loads of research on the Meditarrnean diet and its beneficial effects on heart health, diabetes, obesity, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. 
 
Try these 3 simple steps to get you started:
  • Cook and dress with Olive oil vs. butter
  • Snack on nuts vs. snacking on salty or sugar foods
  • Devote half of your plate to fruits and vegetables at each meal 
 
 

Step # 3: Optimize Your Gut Health With A Daily Probiotic

An imbalanced gut flora is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. The gut flora is filled with living microorganisms that provide a level of protection between your digestive tract and the rest of your body. An imbalanced gut flora results from chronic stress, medication use, oral contraceptive use, diet that is high in processed foods, drinking contaminated water, high alcohol intake and so much more!  This imbalance can then lead to local inflammation which increases gastrointestinal permeability contributing to cardiovascular disease. 
 
Probiotics are a great way to repair the gut lining and optimize gut health to keep the barrier between the digestive tract and blood stream strong. In terms of specifics, Lactobacillus plantarum species has been shown to have a protective effect on atherosclerosis. 
 
 

Step # 4: Supplement With An Omega-3 + CoQ10 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids cannot be made in the body and needs to be obtained through the diet or through supplementation. Here is a list of foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids:
  • Salmon (1-1.5 grams)
  • Tuna (1.5 grams)
  • Mackerel (1 gram)
  • Walnuts (2.6 grams per ¼ cup)
  • Flaxseed (1.5 grams per tbsp)
  • Hemp Seeds (1 gram per tbsp)
 
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the main components of Omega-3’s and can support heart health through decreasing inflammation, decreasing LDL (“bad cholesterol”), maintaining healthy blood pressure and increasing HDL (“good cholesterol”).  The reason that LDL is considered the “bad” one is because it carries the cholesterol from the liver through the entire body and can leave bits and pieces on the walls of the arteries leading to heart disease. HDL helps to prevent the narrowing of arteries by removing excess cholesterol to the liver so that it can be eliminated. 
 
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that the body produces naturally. It is a compound that helps generate energy in your cells.  It is also a very powerful antioxidant that can help to kill free radicals. CoQ10 has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve overall heart function. Unfortunately, levels of CoQ10 decrease with age. As well, individuals with heart disease and individuals who are taking statins, CoQ10 is known to be lower.  Try increasing food sources that are high in CoQ10 like, meat, fish and whole grains or a CoQ10 supplement! 
 

Step # 5: Keep Moving

Aerobic exercise is linked to improvements in cardiovascular risk factors like obesity, depression, inflammation and diabetes. It is the best thing you can do for improving heart health. It is one of the most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping weight stable, lowering blood pressure, lowering inflammation and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes a day 5x a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.  The most important tip with exercise is to make sure to warm up and cool down for 5 minutes. It is important to get your muscles ready for working out but also stretch them post workout. 
 
Exercising does not have to be long and strenuous. It is about finding simple ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
 
Try these tips to get your started:
  • Taking the stairs vs. taking the elevator
  • Walking or biking to work vs. driving 
  • Go for walks with friends vs. that weekly coffee date
 
 
 
 
Naturopathic Medicine can help teach people how to live healthier lifestyles. Overall, diet and lifestyle modifications are building blocks to prevent heart disease. Stay active and engage in some form of relaxation exercise, keep the salt low and supplement with some CoQ10 and Omega-3’s to reduce your risk of heart disease!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
** Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.