By Linda B. White, MD our Official Guide
February is heart disease awareness month. Given that it’s largely preventable, heart disease, you might think, would be as rare as, say, scurvy. In reality, heart disease is the number-one killer worldwide. In the United States, it causes one in three deaths annually.
Granted, preventing heart disease is more complicated than consuming vitamin C to stop scurvy, and it will require changes, for many, in their diets and exercise routines. But they are not as hard as you think. Make heart health a priority by following these ten easy tips:
10 (Not-So-Onerous) Tips for Heart Health
Maintain normal blood pressure
Hypertension, a condition that often goes untreated, is the biggest risk factor. If you’re on medication, stick with it, monitor blood pressure, and keep follow-up doctor’s appointments.
Stay away from tobacco smoke
It elevates the risk of heart disease by a factor of two to four. Far more smokers die of heart disease than lung disease.
Skip the sugar
Fats have been unfairly demonized, though the only one that seems to be really bad is manmade trans fats (also called hydrogenated fats). A new study found that Americans consume more sugar than they ought to and that the higher the sugar intake the greater the risk of cardiovascular death. Substitute water or unsweetened herb tea (see recipe below) for sodas and juice. Have fruit instead of candy and baked good. If you steer clear of processed foods (vehicles for sugar, refined carbs, and trans fats), you’ll be fine.
Eat real food
Eat vegetables, fruit, nuts, and moderate amounts of whole grains. A weekly serving of fatty fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, reduces the risk of fatal coronary heart disease. Supplementation with fish oil may protect against cardiac death in people with heart disease.
Get off the couch!
While physical inactivity inflates the heart disease risk, regular exercise reduces it. Heroics are not required. One study judged brisk walking equivalent to running in reducing three conditions that elevate heart disease risk: hypertension, elevated blood cholesterol, and diabetes.
Sunlight’s ultraviolet light triggers the skin’s vitamin D production and seems to affect arteries to lower blood pressure. Ten-to-fifteen-minute exposures make plenty of vitamin D. Although low vitamin D levels have been linked with cardiovascular disease, the evidence that supplementation might reduce heart disease risk remains inconclusive.
Get a grip on stress
Stressing out elevates hormones such as epinephrine (a.k.a., adrenaline) and cortisol. As a result, heart rate and blood pressure climb, platelets become stickier (increasing the risk of clots within blood vessels), and blood glucose increases. Over time, the risk rises for heart disease and associated conditions such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, and diabetes.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese can hurt the heart. Eating light, staying active, sleeping enough, and avoiding undue stress all help.
Use heart-friendly culinary herbs and spices in lieu of salt
Salt can increase blood pressure. Italian seasonings such as oregano, thyme, and rosemary are high in antioxidants, which counter oxidative stress (a risk factor for heart disease and many other diseases). Garlic has a number of cardiovascular benefits. It may lower LDL cholesterol (and definitely protects it from oxidizing), normalizes high blood pressure, and inhibits platelets from clotting.
Hawthorn and Hibiscus Tea
- Substitute soda and juice with this refreshing, heart-healthy tea. Hibiscus lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. Hawthorn has multiple cardiovascular benefits.
- 1 tablespoon hawthorn berries
- 1 tablespoons hibiscus
- 2 ½ cups water
- Boil the water. Add the herbs. Simmer 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover, and steep another 20 minutes. Strain and serve.
You’ll find more recipes in 500 TIME-TESTED HOME REMEDIES AND THE SCIENCE BEHIND THEM.