Tips for Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease

Cecile LaRiviere

Posted on February 27 2014

Heart disease is considered to be largely preventable. Below are 10 simple tips for reducing your risk of heart disease:

1.Take 10,000 steps a day. Use a pedometer and gradually increase the number of steps you take each day. Exercise fights heart disease in numerous ways: it lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves circulation, reduces stress and strengthens the heart.

2. Get another hour sleep. A recent Sleep in America poll reported that less than half of adults are getting adequate sleep (7-8hrs). Lack so sleep can raise blood pressure, trigger inflammation, and promote atherosclerosis. Getting 6 hours of sleep or less per night has been found to increase risk of heart disease in women, independent of other risk factors (such as smoking).

3. Eat more fish and garlic and drink green tea. These foods contain various compounds that support heart health. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish can help reduce triglycerides and inflammation and prevent clotting. Garlic and green tea contain powerful antioxidants that can improve several aspects of heart health. Consider supplements of garlic and fish oil to complement your diet.

4. Choose whole grains over refined products. Studies show that highly refined carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index, such as white bread, are worse for your heart than foods high in saturated fat, like red meat and butter. Whole grains contain more fiber and are digested more slowly. Try oatmeal and chia seed for breakfast; soluble fiber in oats and chia can help lower cholesterol levels and support weight management. Swap potato chips in favour of tortilla chips. Tortilla chips have more fibre and less fat and if you choose ones that are fortified with extra fiber (flax, chia, bean flour), they can actually help lower your LDL cholesterol. Dip your tortilla chips in fresh salsa. The lycopene in tomatoes can help lower blood pressure.

5. Eat more brightly coloured vegetables and fruits. The antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre can support the health of your blood vessels, improve circulation, help reduce cholesterol and reduce free radical damage. Canada's food guide recommends 7-10 servings for adults (based on age and gender) yet according to a recent survey by Statistics Canada only 40% of Canadians are consuming five or more servings daily. If your diet falls short, take a multivitamin/mineral complex to ensure you are getting all essential nutrients.

6. Make better fat choices. Cook with palm fruit oil rather than olive oil. Olive oil is great to use in salad dressings or add to foods after it is cooked, but it is not heat stable and its beneficial properties are lost when it is heated to high temperatures. Palm fruit oil is heat stable and contains potent antioxidants called tocotrienols that are good for the heart and the brain. NIH-funded research show tocotrienols found in palm fruit oil may reduce damaging effects of stroke and it can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Tocotrienols from palm fruit oil are also available in supplement form.

(A note from femMED: when buying palm oil, make sure you check the label to make sure that it is sustainably farmed).

7. Stress less. Stress is a powerful risk factor for heart disease. Stress impacts several risk factors for heart disease: it raises blood pressure and cholesterol, triggers inflammation and promotes blood clots. Stress can also hamper immune function, and cause insomnia, headaches and weight gain. To better manage stress, try deep breathing, meditation, yoga and get regular exercise.

8. Laugh more and be optimistic. Laughing relaxes and expands blood vessels, which helps protect the heart. Research conducted in over 97,000 women has found that optimists have lower rates of heart disease than those who are negative and pessimistic. Negative emotions such as anger, hostility, worry and pessimism are associated with increased risk of heart disease, whereas the opposite trails are protective.

9. Floss your teeth daily. Poor oral hygiene not only affects your breath and appearance but it can lead to bone loss and increased risk of heart disease. Brush after meals and floss daily. This only takes a few minutes and is vital for your health. If you are out and can’t brush, use a toothpick to loosen food stuck between teeth and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash. Chew sugarless gum sweetened with xylitol.

10. See your doctor and know your numbers. There are often no obvious symptoms of high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure until the conditions are advanced, and so it is important to keep on top of the heart disease symptoms in women. Delaying treatment can increase your risk of serious consequences. Have a regular check-up with your doctor and discuss your results. Know your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Keep a health record at home.

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