6 Things You Can Do For Your Heart Today
Most of us take active steps to avoid cancer—we try to eat right, watch our sun exposure, and have regular check-ups with our physicians. But what have you done lately for the #1 killer of both men and women in America—heart disease? Sure, you don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol excessively, watch your diet and exercise, but are you really doing what counts? Check out these small, evidence-based tricks and tips to benefit your heart starting today.
1. Invest in Supportive Relationships
We all know that having loving, supportive relationships feels great, but did you know it directly affects heart health? In one recent study, people with high levels of supportive relationships were significantly less likely to increase their body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. People with high negative relationships had a 10+ percent increase in waist circumference, as well as increased BMI. Higher BMI readings and waist circumference are significant risk factors for heart disease, so it appears that investing in good relationships with loved ones not only feels great but benefits your heart.
2. Eat Healthy Fats
For years, fats have gotten a bad rap, but in the last 5-10 years, there is increasing evidence that our fear of fats was unfounded, especially healthy fats. Fats are essential for whole body health, and are especially critical to your heart and brain.
Try to include sources of healthy fat in your diet, such as coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, ghee, nuts and seeds, butter sourced from grass-fed cows, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish, particularly fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout, sardines, or herring have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a substance which benefits the heart greatly. Omega-3’s reduce the risk of abnormal heart beats, reduce triglyceride levels, slow the growth of plaque in the blood vessels, and lower blood pressure. I generally recommend 2-3 servings (approximately ¾ cup flaked fish) per week to get the optimum benefits.
Of course, some kinds of fish contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and other toxic chemicals. Try to stay away from larger fish such as shark, king mackerel, or swordfish, as they have had longer to accumulate these substances.
Watch for our next newsletter which will contain an in-depth analysis of omega-3 supplements.
3. Boost Your Exercise Routine with Interval Training
Interval training pairs short bursts of vigorous activity with brief periods of rest, and has been shown to increase oxygenation, reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and reduce blood sugar levels. Interval training also improves endothelial function, which is closely linked to cardiovascular health (the endothelium is the inner lining of blood vessels).
If you don’t exercise already, start slowly with a 20-minute walk around the block 3-5 days/week. As your endurance improves, add 1-2 minute bursts of faster, more vigorous walking followed by 30 seconds of slower walking. Alternate between the bursts of activity (A) with rest periods of slower walking (B) so your workout has an ABAB pattern.
If you already have an exercise plan in place, add more formal interval training to your workout. I like this video designed for beginners, but if you want something more vigorous, search online for “interval training for cardiovascular fitness.”
4. Rethink Your Stress
I’m sure you’re heard a lot of evidence that chronic stress can damage your heart—and you’re not alone in that belief. More than 80 percent of American adults think that stress can have a strong or very strong impact on health, and 94 percent believe that stress contributes to the development of illnesses like heart disease, obesity, and depression.
And while there is plentiful evidence to support the chronic stress/disease connection, what if focusing on the negative impact of stress makes it worse?
Research published in the European Heart Journal found that those who believed stress heavily affected their health had a 50 percent greater risk of dying from heart attack! Remember, this study was not looking at the presence or absence of stress in participants lives, rather it was linked how people thought about stress to their cardiovascular outcomes.
One way to change your mindset is to watch the work of Alia Crum, in particular her Ted Talk on stress mindsets. I also recommend reading Stanford Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress. This book will help you see how stress can make you “stronger, smarter, and happier” if you can change your mindset and embrace it.
5. Consider Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 is likely the most important nutrient you’ve never heard of. While you may be familiar with vitamin K1, the nutrient that helps our blood clot, K2 is greatly unfamiliar to most people. Research has shown K2 to be important for many diseases, including osteoporosis, diabetes, and even cancer. But I find the most promise in using K2 for heart health.
At one point, researchers thought that osteoporosis and calcification of the blood vessels to be unrelated conditions, but there is increasing evidence that a deficiency of vitamin K2 may be at the heart of both!
Without K2, your body can’t activate Matrix Gla Protein (MGP), a substance that inhibits tissue calcification. In other words, without K2, your body sends calcium to your blood vessels, rather than to your bones where it belongs.
There are a number of different forms of vitamin K2, the one that is best absorbed and most stable is K2-7 (also known as MK-7 or menaquinone-7). Typical doses range from 45 mcg to 320 mcg/day, and the most compelling research on K2 and heart health show significant benefit in a higher dose. Most of the vitamin K2 supplements use a K2 source that degrades quickly in the capsule, unfortunately resulting in much lower levels of K2 than claimed on the labels. In our research, only supplements with K2 sourced from MenaquinGold were found to have as much K2 present in the supplement as was promised on the label.
6. Get Tested
The blood work most commonly prescribed at your yearly physical (CBC, CMP, and lipid panel) is far from complete where your heart health is concerned. I encourage all of my patients to have a yearly enhanced cardio metabolic panel, which includes an expanded lipid panel that measures the density and number of lipoproteins, vascular inflammation markers including CRP and homocysteine, and metabolic risk factors such as insulin, hA1c, adiponectin, and c-peptides.
In the office, we offer a complete CardioMetabolic panel from SpectraCell Labs because it is the most comprehensive assessment cardiovascular health we have ever seen. To read more about our favorite test for heart health, click here. In honor of Heart Health Month, SpectraCell Labs is offering a February-only price of $10 for the CardioMetabolic panel when combined with the Micronutrient Panel (a combined price of $190).
It’s never too late to help your heart. Small, incremental changes can make a huge impact on your heart disease risk, as well as on your overall health.