Strategies for Lifelong Heart Health
Are we collectively experiencing a broken heart?
When it comes to cardiovascular health, the answer may be yes. Today's lifestyles increasingly challenge our ability to focus on heart health. These challenges impact both men and women of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. This means it’s more important than ever to be intentional in our efforts to protect our hearts.1
We can certainly take proactive steps to protect our heart health daily. These steps not only help your cardiovascular system but improve your overall wellbeing and quality of life.
Keep reading to find out more about how you can best support your heart health and quality of life.
Key Factors to Supporting Heart Health
Maintaining a healthy inflammatory response in the body is an important factor for heart health. Inflammation could be caused by several factors, such as poor diet, stress, food allergies, or certain conditions.
Whatever the cause, a healthy inflammatory response in the body is important to maintaining a healthy heart. Let’s take a look at ways to help support a healthy inflammatory response in the body.
1 - Eat a heart-healthy diet
The food that you eat affects many of the important factors associated with heart health:
- Your blood cholesterol
- Your blood pressure
- Your blood glucose
Avoiding highly processed foods, foods with added sugar, sugary sodas, fried foods, and ultra processed snacks are key.
Instead, opt for foods that will work to support your heart health. A few examples include:
- Berries, are full of anti-inflammatory properties that help support cellular health.2
- Grass-fed meat, pasture raised poultry and eggs, wild caught fish. Meat, fish and poultry that are sourced from farms with regenerative farming practices are more nutrient dense. Studies show that factory farmed meats contain higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.3
- Vegetables, particularly leafy greens, contribute to heart health.
- Garlic, when it is chopped or crushed, creates a compound called allicin, which has been shown to support cardiovascular health.4
he Mediterranean diet is a good guideline to follow for optimum heart health. Numerous studies have demonstrated that Mediterranean-style diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, and healthy fats like olive oil and nuts can protect cardiovascular health.5
2 - Support gut health
The health of our gut and its balance of good and bad bacteria impacts our wellbeing in a number of ways. And scientists are finding that imbalances in what’s called your gut microbiome—the group of microbes in your GI tract—may also affect your heart.6
Here are some ways you can support your gut health so that it doesn’t end up impacting your heart:
Proceed with caution with antibiotics. While needed at times, antibiotics that treat infections can also kill off healthy bacteria in our guts. Use only when necessary and as directed.7 Be sure to work with a healthcare practitioner for strategies to replenish your good gut bacteria post-antibiotics as well.
Fiber is your friend. It plays a major role in digestive health and will help keep your gut microbiome happy. Plant sources are especially important, and many Americans are deficient. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes—like the Mediterranean diet.
Probiotics. Fermented foods like yogurt, miso, and sauerkraut contain good bacteria that your microbiome needs. Probiotic supplements can also help the microbiome thrive. As always, consult with your practitioner before introducing a new probiotic supplement.
3 - Get moving
Regular physical activity helps keeps your heart muscle strong and your weight under control.
There are three major types of exercise that will help benefit your heart health. While it is a good idea to incorporate all three in some fashion, finding forms of exercise that you enjoy and will actually stick with is most important.
Aerobic exercise helps to improve circulation, which in turn lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Think running, brisk walking, cycling, dancing, or playing tennis.
Resistance training can help reduce fat and build muscle mass—a major key in supporting cardiovascular health. Combined with aerobic exercise, resistance training also helps lower cholesterol. Once or twice a week, lift free weights or use resistance machines in the gym. You can also do bodyweight training, such as push-ups & sit ups, from home.8
Stretching, flexibility, and balance exercises help improve your musculoskeletal health, which supports healthy joints and muscles. In order to do aerobic and resistance training, good mobility is crucial. Tai chi and yoga classes are great ways to improve these skills, and there are also an amazing variety of videos online you can try from home.
4 - Lower stress
Stress creates an inflammatory state within the body which can take a toll on your heart health.
For instance, studies have found that the stress from divorce produced the same impact on your heart as seen in smokers or diabetics.9
We may experience stress in an emotional way, but it has profound physical effects. Stress can impact our sleep, exercise, and appetite.
Some steps you can take to manage stress and protect your health include:
Take time for yourself. Be sure to rest, find time for relaxation or give meditation a try. These activities help calm and put our nervous systems in a parasympathetic “rest and digest” state.
Talk to somebody. If you feel particularly stressed, talk to a healthcare practitioner. They can suggest lifestyle changes that are specific to your needs. It also helps to connect with friends and family during times of stress, rather than isolating yourself. Socializing can offer support or can simply be a distraction from your worries.
Get Active. In addition to its other benefits, exercise is highly effective at relieving stress. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity per day causes your body to release endorphins and other feel-good chemicals that help melt away worries.10
5 - Get good sleep
The quality of our sleep can be a powerful indicator of our overall health.
For instance, adults who consistently sleep for more than 7 hours are healthier and have healthier hearts.11 To help ensure quality rest, we recommend:
- Create a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking around the same time every day.
- Expose yourself to natural light in the mornings. Due to your body’s circadian rhythms, this will help you feel more alert upon waking, and sleepier when it gets dark.12
- Avoid eating and drinking before bed, especially alcohol or highly-processed foods which can disturb your quality of sleep.
- Sleep in an environment that is dark, cool, and quiet.
If you are concerned about your heart health, it is important to work with a practitioner who can help determine your own risk factors and perform comprehensive lab testing. You deserve dedicated care to help support your cardiovascular health for years to come.
1. American College of Cardiology, “Latest Statistics Say Nearly Half of Americans Have Some Form of Heart Disease”
2. Najjar RS, Turner CG, Wong BJ, Feresin RG. Berry-Derived Polyphenols in Cardiovascular Pathologies: Mechanisms of Disease and the Role of Diet and Sex. Nutrients. 2021 Jan 27;13(2):387. doi: 10.3390/nu13020387. PMID: 33513742; PMCID: PMC7911141.
3. Daley CA, Abbott A, Doyle PS, Nader GA, Larson S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr J. 2010 Mar 10;9:10. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-9-10. PMID: 20219103; PMCID: PMC2846864.
4. Banerjee SK, Maulik SK. Effect of garlic on cardiovascular disorders: a review. Nutr J. 2002 Nov 19;1:4. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-
1- 4. PMID: 12537594; PMCID: PMC139960.
5. Martínez-González MA, Gea A, Ruiz-Canela M. The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health. Circ Res. 2019
Mar;124(5):779-798. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.118.313348. PMID: 30817261.
6. Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Can Your Gut Health Affect Your Heart? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/can-your-gut-health-affect-your-heart
7. Ramirez J, Guarner F, Bustos Fernandez L, Maruy A, Sdepanian VL, Cohen H. Antibiotics as Major Disruptors of Gut Microbiota. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2020 Nov 24;10:572912. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2020.572912. PMID: 33330122; PMCID: PMC7732679.
8. Ho SS, Dhaliwal SS, Hills AP, Pal S. The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. BMC Public Health. 2012 Aug 28;12:704. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-704. PMID: 23006411; PMCID: PMC3487794.
9. Dupre ME, George LK, Liu G, Peterson ED. Association between divorce and risks for acute myocardial infarction. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2015 May;8(3):244-51. doi: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.114.001291. Epub 2015 Apr 14. PMID: 25872508; PMCID: PMC4439317.
10. Mayo Clinic, “Healthy LIfestyle: Stress Management: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “How Does Sleep Affect Your Health?,”
12. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,”Effects of Light on Circadian Rhythms”
- Dr. Brady