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Six Helpful Tips for a Heart Healthy Lifestyle
02/24/2021
Linda May-Zhang, PhD

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February is American Heart Month and is a perfect time to think about strategies to improve your heart health. When you make healthy lifestyle choices, you can lower your risk of heart conditions as well as prevent other chronic health problems. Below are some tips for you to keep your heart and body healthy.

1. Get active and don’t sit for too long

Being physically active is a major step toward keeping a strong healthy heart. Research has suggested that being sedentary for long periods of time is bad for your health no matter how much exercise you do. Experts suggest getting aerobic activity in on a regular basis (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) plus remembering to move throughout the day. Some tips may include taking the stairs rather than the elevator or going for a short walk during your lunch break.

2. Eat a balanced diet with good fats

Maintaining a healthy diet is another tool to fight against heart conditions. A heart healthy diet includes eating a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups, which have minerals, nutrients, proteins, good fats, and carbohydrates to nourish your body. This includes a variety of fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish. Limit your intake of saturated or trans fats, sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you are looking for a healthy alternative to sugar consider using stevia in foods and beverages.

3. Consider taking Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

While there is no shortcut to better heart health, a common dietary supplement may give your heart and blood vessels a healthy boost. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that is naturally produced by the body and stored in the cell mitochondria. It is also found in dietary sources such as oily fish (like salmon and tuna), organ meats (like liver), whole grains, and veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, spinach). Its job is to help turn food into the energy and fight damage to your body’s cells. When you age, your levels of CoQ10 drops. Low levels of CoQ10 are associated with risk of having heart problems. Consider supplementing with CoQ10 to replenish your body’s supply and support your heart health, especially if you are older1, a smoker2, or an active athlete3 as research has shown these groups tend to have lower CoQ10 levels. Some research also suggests that CoQ10 might be depleted when taking statins, and supplementing with CoQ10 may help ease the muscle weakness and pain sometimes associated with taking statins4.

4. Manage stress

Stress causes all sorts of physical discomfort like sweaty hands or an upset stomach. But chronic stress can also raise your risk for heart problems. Stress can increase inflammation in your body and can also affect your heart in other indirect ways. When you’re stressed, you tend to sleep poorly. You may also not make healthy food choices or exercise. Recognizing that stress can damage your body is the first step to managing stress. Some tips to reduce stress is to take some time out to meditate, go for a walk, or practice deep breathing exercises. You may listen to some uplifting music or go seek companionship. For other tips on managing stress, visit our other blog here.

5. Get enough sleep

Sleep is essential for keeping your heart healthy. If you don’t consistently sleep enough, you may be at a higher risk for heart conditions no matter what your other lifestyle habits are. Too little sleep or disruptions in your body’s natural circadian rhythm causes disruptions in biological processes. Making sleep a priority and getting 7-8 hours of sleep most nights is a major step towards a heart healthy lifestyle.

6. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke

When you breathe in air, your lungs take oxygen in and deliver it to the heart, which pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. But when you breathe in smoke, your blood is contaminated with the smoke’s chemicals, which can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels. Quitting smoking will greatly benefit help your heart and you will see fast results. Within 20 minutes of stopping, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Within 2-3 weeks, your blood flow starts to get better and your risk of heart disease goes down. Secondhand smoke also is a detriment to heart health so avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible.

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References

1. Hernandez-Camacho JD, Bernier M, Lopez-Lluch G, Navas P. Coenzyme Q10 Supplementation in Aging and Disease. Front Physiol. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00044

2. Al-Bazi MM, Elshal MF, Khoja SM. (2011) Reduced coenzyme Q10 in female smokers and its association with lipid profile in a young healthy adult population. Arch Med Sci. 7(6): 948-954.

3. Alf D, Schmidt ME, Siebrecht SC. (2013) Ubiquinol supplementation enhances peak power production in trained athletes: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 10(24). doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-24

4. Deichmann R, Lavie C, Andrews S. (2010) Coenzyme Q10 and Statin-Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction. The Oshsner Journal. 10:16-21

If you enjoyed this blog, sign up to receive more articles on health and wellness topics from Sundita's newsletter here. When you sign up, you'll also receive a free downloadable Stress Busting Recipes cookbook!

Dr. Linda May-Zhang has over 10 years of research experience in nutrition, chronic diseases and pharmacology. She has published over 20 peer-reviewed academic papers in scientific journals. She is also a science writer with a passion for educating the lay public.

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