They all help cut your risk of heart disease, the top cause of death among people.
At least 40 to 50 people die of heart related ailments every hour in the country. And at least 15 to 20 million men and women suffer from some of heart disease or the other. The good news: It’s also true that preventing heart problems is getting easier. Here, we gathered the latest tricks – all backed by solid research – to take care of your heart.
A new study sponsored by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that, among people who didn’t eat a lot of saturated fat, those who consumed more than three daily servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese had systolic blood pressure (the top number) almost four points lower than those who ate only half a serving daily. High blood pressure can damage your arteries, increasing your risk for heart attacks and stroke. Researchers say low-fat dairy is the smart choice, because it’s lower in saturated fat.
Researchers found that adults who had at least one serving of lowfat milk or milk products each day had 37 percent lower odds of poor kidney function linked to heart disease compared to those who drank little or no lowfat milk. To determine heart disease risk, researchers from several universities in the United States and Norway measured the kidney function of more than 5,000 older adults ages 45 to 84. They tracked eating patterns and tested albumin-to-creatinine ratio (ACR) – a measure that when too low, can indicate poor kidney function and an extremely high risk for cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. Researchers found that people who reported consuming more lowfat milk and milk products had lower ACR, or healthier kidney function. In fact, lowfat milk and milk products was the only food group evaluated that on its own, was significantly linked to a reduced risk for kidney dysfunction. The study authors cited other research suggesting milk protein, vitamin D, magnesium and calcium may contribute to milk’s potential heart health benefits. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend drinking three glasses of lowfat or fat free milk each day.
Try new moves
Thirty minutes of Tai Chi – a gentle Chinese martial art that includes sequences of slow, relaxing movements – may also lower your blood pressure. Interestingly, the slow movements of these techniques are associated with some lowering of stress and blood pressure as well as some benefits for balance. In one study, after 12 weeks of Tai Chi, participants showed a decrease in systolic pressure of almost 16 points.
How fast your heart beats when you’re at rest can be an indicator of heart attack risk. In fact, higher resting heart rates have been linked to an increased risk of sudden death. The good news is that eating fish can lower your heart rate. In one Harvard Medical School study. people who ate five or more servings per month of fish such as tuna or salmon (baked or broiled) averaged 3.2 fewer beats per minute than those who ate less than one serving per month. Researchers credit the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, aids in significant decline in plasma total triacylglycerol concentrations.
Hit the juice
Pomegranate juice seems to stave off hardening of the arteries – and may even reverse it. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pomegranate juice reduced the rate of cholesterol plaque buildup in mice by 30 percent. And heart cells treated with the juice showed a 50 percent increase in the production of nitric oxide, a substance that helps fight plaque. It is also believed to have anti-atherosclerotic properties, as studies in Israel have shown that the fruit juice, taken daily, prevented the thickening of arteries and slowed down cholesterol oxidation by almost half (Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;23(3):423-33).
Sprinkle on the soy
A daily dash of dark soy sauce in marinades, dipping sauces, salad dressing, or soups and stews can help fight heart-damaging substances linked to smoking, obesity, or diabetes, according to research from the National University of Singapore. The sauce has 10 times the antioxidants in wine, which is also heart-healthy (in moderation). But watch out: Soy sauces often have a ton of salt, which can raise blood pressure. Check labels for lower-salt versions. The Heart Association statement notes that soy products like tofu, soy butter, soy nuts and some soy burgers should be heart-healthy because they contain a lot of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals and are low in saturated fat.
Laugh it up
Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a new study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, was presented at the American Heart Association’s 73rd Scientific Sessions on November 15 in New Orleans. We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack. It was also observed that people who watched comedy films like There’s Something About Mary had better blood flow, compared with those who watched dramas like Saving Private Ryan, according to a study at the University of Maryland school of Medicine in Baltimore. Principal researcher Michael Miller, M.D., director of the centre for Preventive Cardiology, recommends 15 minutes of daily laughter.
Don’t skimp on sleep
People who sleep less than 5 hours higher each night have a 30 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those getting 8 hours, according to a study from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Too little sleep may play havoc with your hormones, blood sugar, and blood pressure. So after getting your 15 minutes of laughs, turn off that PC/TV and turn in. About one-third of Americans sleep 6.5 hours or less a night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While these Americans may be putting their health at risk, people shouldn’t spend all of their time sleeping, either; research shows that sleeping more than nine hours may also have deleterious effects, although the reasons for this are less clear. Short-term studies show that with sleep deprivation, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. As a result, your blood vessels constrict and your blood pressure tends to go up. And we think that may play a role in heart disease. Sleep deprivation probably also affects the regulation of blood sugar. If you’re sleep deprived, it requires more insulin to keep your blood sugar where it should be than it does if you’re not sleep deprived. And elevated insulin levels and poor blood sugar regulation are major contributors to development of vascular disease, which then can lead to heart disease.
You can lower your blood pressure by taking 10 breathes per minute (instead of usual 16 to 19) for 15 minutes a day over 2 months, studies show. Researcher David Anderson, PhD, a hypertension expert at the National Institute on Aging, says shallow breathing (more beats per minute) may delay your body’s excretion of salt, a high-blood-pressure trigger.
Feel the beat
A group of University of Oxford researchers found that slow, meditative musical rhythms can lead to a healthy drop in heart rate , while faster rhythms speed up breathing and circulation. According to the study presented at the recent meeting of the American Heart Association, listening to favorite music dilates blood vessels in the same manner as positive emotions such as laughing, exercising or taking blood pressure medication.
The study reported that vascular dilatation prevents the formation of blood clots and atherosclerosis-causing plaques, and therefore reduces the risk of further cardiovascular events. Findings revealed that while joyful music increases the blood vessel diameter by 26 percent, listening to music one dislikes narrows the blood vessels by 6 percent. Scientists believe music also helps feel better by releasing certain neuro-chemicals known as endorphins in the brain.
Run for life
It is true that exercise temporarily raises the odds of a heart attack while you’re mid-workout, but doing it consistently reduces that risk over the long haul, leading to a net benefit. Some researchers have questioned whether marathon running, especially in people who haven’t trained a lot, might cause heart damage, at least temporarily. But there’s no evidence that it causes long-term harm or actually leads to heart attacks. Even athletes with enlarged hearts—if they’re healthy hearts—aren’t, as once feared, at risk of early death. The bottom line: Simply going for a run most days of the week is doing far more good than bad for your heart. Running seems to strengthen your heart, as well as other muscles, and lower cholesterol. But if you don’t think running is the right exercise for you, just walking 30 minutes a day will lower your heart attack risk by half. Exercise is the closest thing to a magic bullet.
Prevention really is better than cure. Follow these tips to help your heart stay healthy.