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8 Strategies for Heart-Healthy Living

Heart Health Month is the perfect time to take stock of your ticker.

By Dr. Debra Rouse

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I’s an eye-opening statistic: Heart disease remains the number one killer of American women. Approximately one in four women in the U.S. will die of heart disease. The good news is that it’s preventable.  

Heart health has been a longtime passion of mine, because I lost my father to sudden cardiac death when he was 59. In recognition of Heart Health Month in February, I offer the following heart-healthy advice.  

Don’t skimp on healthy fats

Aim for at least 20 to 30 percent fat in your diet in the form of avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, wild salmon, grass-fed butter and/or ghee (in moderation), omega-3 fatty acids (DHA [docosahexaenoic acid] and EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid]), hemp seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds.  These fats offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits, and have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular-related incidents.  

Avoid unhealthy fats

This includes partially hydrogenated fats/oils, hydrogenated oils, fried foods and trans fats. Evidence suggests eating these types of fats increases low-density lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol levels, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease. 

Get lots of exercise

Interval trainingshort bursts of intense exercise followed by brief periods of rest—in particular is an effective and efficient way to strengthen the cardiovascular system and build a healthier heart. 

Don’t smoke

Smoking is a major risk, because it can damage the structure and function of your blood vessels. It is responsible for close to 20 percent of deaths from heart disease.  

Consume plenty of fiber

Get at least 25 to 30 grams daily. Adequate dietary fiber can protect against diabetes, stroke and high cholesterol levels. Choose foods like beans, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, ground flax, and hemp and chia seeds.   

Enjoy a plant-based diet

Making the switch can lower your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You don’t need to go vegan; simply eating a heavily plant-based diet will benefit heart health. Try including more high-fiber foods already mentioned. Substitute a few meat-based dinners for a vegetarian (bean, legume or nut-based) option. Include plenty of vegetables at every meal.  

Practice mindfulness

In a recent study of more than 200 people with active heart disease, practicing mindfulness meditation for 15 minutes daily lowered blood pressure and stress levels, which in turn decreased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death by nearly 50 percent.  

Decrease your sugar intake

Sugar elevates inflammation in the body and blood vessels. It also increases risk of type 2 diabetes, which raises heart disease risk. Aim to limit your intake to no more than 25 grams of sugar daily. 

Dr. Debra Rouse is a licensed naturopathic doctor and member of the Institute of Functional Medicine.

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