You know the basics of heart health: exercise 30 minutes most days of the week, limit red meat and other saturated fats and don’t smoke. But beyond these tips, little things you do throughout the day can also keep your ticker in top working order. The best news? You can easily incorporate these random acts into your everyday routines. Start today with these expert tips.
Listen to a happy tune
Downloading upbeat music does more than make your workout fly by—joyful songs can also reduce blood pressure, according to a study published in Heart, a British Medical Journal publication. Anxiety-producing music had the opposite effect. Soothing music calms the autonomic nervous system, says Stephen Sinatra, MD, cardiologist and author of The Great Cholesterol Myth Cookbook. “In fact, pregnant mothers who listen to music like the Brandenburg concerto, and other music scores that simulate the heart beat, show an independent calming effect on the unborn child.”
Pop a vitamin D
Since your body makes its own vitamin D from sunlight, it makes sense that winter months bring about lower levels in vitamin D across the population, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE. This may put your heart at risk. In addition to its role in bone building, “vitamin D also has an anti-inflammatory effect, which indirectly helps to prevent heart disease,” says Sinatra. Supplement your diet with vitamin D during dark, cold winter days. Sinatra recommends 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day.
Focus on protein
Women who eat more protein rich foods other than red meat showed a lowered risk of developing heart disease, according to a study in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Substituting nuts, fish, poultry and low-fat dairy products for red meat all resulted in lower risk of coronary heart disease. “Eating adequate protein is essential to maintaining muscle mass and vascular health,” says Larry Santora, MD, medical director of the Dick Butkus Center for Cardiovascular Wellness, Saint Joseph Hospital, Orange, Calif. “Carbohydrates, fats and protein should be balanced in a ratio of about 50/25/25 percent respectively. If you eliminate any of these muscle mass suffers.” Santora recommends .5 grams/protein per kilogram of body weight, citing egg white is one of the best protein sources.
Stick with filtered coffee
If you love your afternoon French press or espresso coffee, you may want to switch to a more traditional, filtered, cup of Joe for your heart’s sake. Unfiltered French press and espresso contain compounds called diterpenes, which raise the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In general, coffee is now considered a health food, says Santora. “Although decaf is not as healthy due to the solvents needed to remove the caffeine, and unfiltered coffee contains more of the oils that affect the cholesterol levels.” Stick with regular coffee and skip the decaf and espresso varieties.
Get Monk-ish with your hand washing… and get a flu shot
Keeping your hands clean not only staves off cold and flu germs but may also reduce heart disease risk. “The link between infections and heart disease is real,” says Santora. “The body, in its attempt to fight the infection, sets up an inflammatory response that inflames the arteries to the heart and causes plaque formation and rupture of plaque. Heart attack rates go up during flu season, probably do to this inflammatory response.” A flu shot also helps reduce heart attack risk. Vaccinations link to a 19 percent reduction in the rate of first heart attacks, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Take a deep breath
Yogic breathing exercises that involve deep belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, reduces respiratory rate and improves heart rate variability (an indicator or good health and fitness and refers to the length of time between heartbeats), according to a study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. Deep breathing also helps release tension and ease anxiety. To practice deep breathing follow these steps:
- Drop your shoulders away from your ears
- Open your chest and roll shoulders backward
- Place your hands on your abdomen so you can notice breath moving in and out
- Inhale for a count of six, feeling the air fill your abdomen and then exhale for a count of eight to 10; repeat four times.
Add nuts and berries
Adding a few healthy foods to your diet can be a tasty and easy way to keep your heart in top shape. Santora recommends the following:
- Eat a palm full of nuts per day. Any nut will do, however, walnuts and almonds give you the best bang for heart health buck, says Santora.
- Toss ½ cup blueberries into your morning yogurt or cereal. “Blueberries have unique antioxidant properties that reduce heart disease risk,” says Santora.
- Slice up a tomato into your lunch salad each day. Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant in tomato and tomato based products, may reduce the risk of heart disease and breast cancer, says Santora.