Seven Ways to Boost Heart Health

The Physicians Committee
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Seven Ways to Boost Heart Health

Nearly 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease daily, with an average of one death occurring every 40 seconds. An estimated 7.1 million Americans have experienced a heart attack during their lifetimes. Those who survive a heart attack often go on to have another. More than 7 percent of Americans have some type of cardiovascular disease, and one out of every six deaths in the United States is due to coronary heart disease alone.1 Eating habits and other lifestyle factors play a large role in determining the risk of heart disease and may prevent or even reverse this condition.

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We now have the most powerful tools yet for gaining control over the health of our hearts. Here are seven ways to boost your heart health that you can take action on right away.

1. Quit Smoking

Smoking endangers more than lung health, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Smokers who had high cholesterol and blood pressure levels were at 20 times greater risk of dying from heart disease when compared to nonsmoking men with lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels.  

Neaton JD, Wentworth D. Serum cholesterol, blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and death from coronary heart disease. Overall findings and differences by age for 316,099 white men. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Research Group. Arch Intern Med. 1992;152:56-64.

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2. Exercise Daily

Just as running increases leg strength, regular workouts can strengthen the heart. Exercise helps to delay disease progression by reducing heart disease risk factors like hyperlipidemia and hypertension.

Gielen S, Laughlin M, O’Conner C, Duncker D. Exercise training in patients with heart disease: review of beneficial effects and clinical recommendations. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2015;57:347-355.

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3. Load up on Fruit

Daily intake of fruit may decrease the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent, according to data presented in 2014 at the European Society of Cardiology Congress. Researchers followed 451,681 participants for seven years and found that in addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, daily fruit consumption reduced the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by 27 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared with people who ate less than a serving of fruit each day. Daily fruit intake also cut the risk of overall death by 32 percent during follow-up. This study emphasizes the effectiveness of fruit as disease treatment and prevention.

Du H, Li L, Bennett D, et al. Fresh fruit consumption, blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk: a prospective cohort study of 0.5 million adults in the China Kadoorie Biobank. Report presented at: European Society of Cardiology Congress 2014; September 1, 2014: Barcelona, Spain.

4. Limit Stress

Stress takes a toll on the heart. Daily life is full of events that cause our hearts to beat a bit faster and drive up our blood pressure. Reducing stress means keeping your challenges within a range you can manage. Getting adequate rest and learning techniques for stress reduction, meditation, or yoga can be very helpful.

Schnall PL, Pieper C, Schwartz JE, et al. The relationship between job strain, workplace diastolic blood pressure, and left ventricular mass index. Results of a case-control study. JAMA. 1990;263:1929-1935.

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5. Make Fiber Your Friend!

Fiber decreases the likelihood of dying after a heart attack, according to a recently published study in British Medical Journal. A high-fiber diet was associated with a 31 percent reduction in dying and a 35 percent reduction in death from heart disease among 4,098 heart attack survivors from the Health Professionals Study and the Nurses’ Health Study.

Fiber, especially fiber from grains, decreases systemic inflammation, lowers bad cholesterol, improves insulin sensitivity, and enhances healthy gut flora. High-fiber foods are also high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals—all nutrients that are beneficial to health.

Li S, Flint A, Pai JK, et al. Dietary fiber intake and mortality among survivors of myocardial infarction: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2014;348:g2659-g2671.

heart-disease-beans

6. Beans Are Truly Good for Your Heart

Adding just half a cup of beans a day to the diet can significantly reduce LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels, according to a meta-analysis published by the Canadian Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed data from 26 randomized control trials, which included 1,037 participants, and found that LDL cholesterol dropped an average of 5 percent after consuming half a cup of beans per day over an average of six weeks. They suggest that adding beans to the diet can be a simple way to benefit heart health.

Ha V, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, et al.  Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ. 2014;186:E252-E262.

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7. Fill up on Plants

A research report from the Journal of Family Practice confirms that heart disease can be dramatically improved—and even reversed—by a plant-based diet. Researchers from this study counseled 198 patients with cardiovascular disease on a diet free of fish, meat, dairy, and added oils. Of the 89 percent of participants who followed the diet, 81 percent improved their symptoms and experienced fewer complications from heart disease.

In addition, those participants lost an average of 18.7 pounds, while 22 percent saw a complete reversal of their condition. This study employed a nutritional training program that eliminated both added oils and animal products.

Esselstyn CB Jr., Gendy G, Doyle J, Golubic M, Roizen MF. A way to reverse CAD? J Fam Pract. 2014;63:356-364b.

While exercise and smoking cessation are critical steps to decreasing your risk for chronic disease, taking control of these factors cannot undo the effects of a bad diet. The only way to a healthy heart is an all-encompassing healthy lifestyle which incorporates a varied, low-fat, vegetarian diet, daily physical activity, and stress reduction.