15 Steps To Heart Health
Our heart is roughly the size of our fists and only weighs around 300 grams, but it’s considered as one of the most important organs in our body, second only to our brain.
Despite being so small and light, the heart is considered by many to be the most hardworking (and overworked) organ. It beats 100,000 times per day or about 3 billion times in a lifetime, is responsible for the proper circulation of nutrients and oxygen throughout our body, and helps the body adapt to stressful situations.
If our heart were to encounter diseases or complications, we’re sure to feel it all over. Any small problem can quickly become fatal if left untreated. We need to make sure our heart is as healthy as it can be if we want to live a long and healthy life. Here’s our top 15 Steps to Heart Health.
1. Going out for a walk or run
It’s no secret exercise is excellent for your body. More than just making you look and feel good, exercise is of utmost importance for our heart. By letting it experience short periods of stress (fast heart rate) and long periods of recovery (slow down to regular intervals), exercise trains the heart to do its job better, similar to how it makes our muscles stronger.
You don’t have to go all out on the exercise though. Sometimes, even a simple walk or quick run outside is more than enough to give your heart a good workout. Build up to at least 40 minutes a day. If you do not have the energy to exercise this much at first, start slowly by exercising 10 minutes, two or three times a day until you can gradually build up to 40 minutes a day. Bonus: The fresh air and the Vitamin D produced by being exposed to sunlight can have heart-strengthening benefits too. [1, 2]
2. Start lifting
When it comes to muscle building and strengthening, nothing can be better than lifting weights. It helps burn more calories and allows our body to better cope with physically stressful situations. Since the heart is also a muscle, lifting weights will also positively affect it like it does our other muscles. In fact, research has shown that weightlifting is capable of improving heart rate variability and is safe even when done by coronary artery disease patients and those with heart failure. [5, 6] If you are not currently on a weight training program, you can start by trying muscle building exercise such as step exercise (we recommend 10 minutes a day). If at first, you do not have the energy or physical ability to perform this exercise, start slowly by setting a goal to do this exercise 2 minutes, two or three times a day until you can gradually build up to 10 minutes a day.
3. Cut sugar and artificial sweeteners out of your life
In our last blog, we discussed why you should quit sugar. One of the main reasons is due to how it negatively affects cardiovascular health. Many researchers agree that sugar consumption can lead to deleterious heart problems. Over consumption of sugar can lead to elevated markers for cardiovascular disease as well as increased risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes. [7, 8]
Aspartame found in some artificial sweeteners is no better. Intaking it may trigger an irregular heart rhythm and interact with cardiac medication. It damages the cardiac conduction system and is a direct cause of sudden death.
The CDC has reported that Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) is the nation’s #1 killer. SCD is not a “heart attack” or myocardial infarction caused by clogged arteries. It’s an electrical problem in which the cardiac conduction system that generates the impulses regulating the heart suddenly puts out rapid or chaotic electrical impulses or both. The heart ceases its rhythmic contractions, the brain is starved of oxygen, and the victim loses consciousness in seconds.
We recommend strictly eliminating aspartame and reducing sugar from your diet.
4. Have a diet rich in fiber
Eating leafy greens and other fiber-rich vegetables and food sources is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.  In fact, one study cites increased intake of dietary fiber can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 14% and reduces the risk of coronary death by 27%. 
5. Avoid sitting as much as possible
With today’s convenient and app-driven lifestyle, being sedentary has become the new normal. We get it: you’ve just been through a rough commute (sitting) or have had a hard day at work (sitting), so the last thing you want to do is move around. The thing is, sitting around all day can be detrimental to your overall health and when it comes to having a healthy heart, being sedentary is the last thing you want to do.
Not only does sitting or lying around all day make the body weak and prone to disease , it also increases the risk of acquiring heart disease and dying from it. 
6. Engage in sports
Being as active as possible is a great way to make sure your heart is always pumping the way it should. If the simplicity of walking or running bores you and you don’t want to lift weights just yet, being active in physically demanding sports can be a great alternative. Basketball, football, soccer, tennis, even swimming are all great examples of sports that will engage your heart and the rest of your body for a full-body workout. If done consistently, being sporty can also increase longevity. 
With all the benefits of sports to heart health, it’s important to remember, that those with pre-existing heart conditions should take part in consultation with their doctor. Another important reminder is that if you don’t know your heart health status, it would be a good idea to find out now. If you are unsure where to start, check out our Wellness Tips & Ideas issue on Heart Health Monitoring and speak with a qualified healthcare provider.
7. Snack on nuts
It’s healthy to snack or graze, but you have to be particularly conscious about what you snack on. Candies, chocolates, pastries; are all delectable and tasty treats, but they should be reserved as a treat and not something we eat as a snack.
When you have the urge to snack on something, go for nuts instead! Research has correlated nut consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease. Nuts contain a good amount of fiber, healthy fat, minerals, and other bioactive compounds all of which contribute to optimized heart function. 
Nuts have also been found to contribute to weight loss and reduce the risk of obesity which is an excellent benefit for those looking to keep a healthy heart with excessive weight being closely tied to heart disease.
8. Include more fish on your plate
Omega 3 does wonders to our heart, and you know what contains a lot of Omega 3? Fish! One of the reasons why fish capsules are popular is due to Omega 3, a compound that’s been shown to prevent a variety of cardiovascular diseases.  On top of being healthy for our heart, fish can be served in a lot of ways, guaranteeing a dish for just about everyone.
9. Reduce Stress
If you live in the city, chances are you have a pretty stressful life. Stress at work, stress during traffic, and sometimes even stress at home; stress just finds a way into your life 24/7. Stress is bad for our health, especially for our heart, as research shows chronic stress is a reliable indicator of coronary heart disease. 
One of the best ways to combat stress is by meditating. Yes, that short 15 minutes of deep breathing and peace can help lower the risk of heart disease through stress reduction.  In a busy world, having time, no matter how short, for peace is a luxury you and your heart deserves.
Check out more of our tips on Stress Reduction to find methods that work for you.
10. Sleep at least 8 hours a day
One of the best ways to reward our tired and stressed out body is by getting good sleep. On top of being the perfect way to relax and recover from a hard and tiring day, sleep is necessary when it comes to keeping our body optimal. From our cells all the way to our skin, sleep is critical when it comes to keeping everything running smoothly, and that is particularly true when it comes to our heart.
Sleep deprivation has been proven to be problematic for our heart, increasing the likelihood of acquiring diseases such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and even type 2 diabetes.  One study suggests the human body needs at least 7 hours of quality sleep a day to fully recover and remain optimal for long-term health. And yes, you can also have too much sleep, and while it’s not as bad as being sleep deprived, it’s still not good for you. 
“The analysis indicates that mortality rates from ischemic heart disease, cancer, stroke, and all causes combined were lowest for individuals sleeping 7 or 8 h per night. Men sleeping 6 h or less or 9 h or more had 1.7 times the total age-adjusted death rate of men sleeping 7 or 8 h per night. The comparable relative risk for women was 1.6.”
11. Reduce Alcohol Consumption.
Excessive alcohol drinking has been known to cause cardiomyopathy. While light or moderate consumption can confer some cardiovascular benefits, it’s generally best to avoid it as much as possible. 
12. Reduce Coffee Consumption
While coffee may have some benefits for our body, several studies found consumption increases the risk of coronary heart disease. The source appears to be from the compound terpenoids that are naturally found in coffee and is known to raise one’s cholesterol. 
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, coffee drinkers who quit drinking caffeinated coffee saw a reduction in their blood levels of cholesterol and homocysteine.
Coffee has been linked to increased coronary risk independent of cholesterol, hyperlipidemia, atherosclerosis, increased platelet reactivity, central nervous system stimulation, increased diuretic activity, heart muscle stimulation, smooth muscle relaxation, cerebral cortex stimulation and raised cholesterol.
The xanthines in caffeine have been shown to cause irregular heart rate, insomnia, elevated blood glucose, gastric hyperacidity, elevated blood pressure, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, heartburn, reflux, increased excretion of magnesium, calcium, sodium, and chloride, extra increased loss of calcium in women taking estrogen, osteoporosis, low birth weights, diabetes, PMS, ulcers (even with decaffeinated coffee) and infertility.
We recommend avoiding coffee.
13. Get screened and treated for Anemia
One of the major effects of anemia is that it dramatically increases the workload on your heart. Low viscosity due to the low concentration of red blood cells causes a greater quantity of blood return to the heart. Hypoxia causes vessels dilation, which further increases the quantity of blood returning to the heart.
For these reasons, it is important to ask your doctor to screen for anemia during your annual checkup. Anemia screening involves a quick and simple blood test panel.
14. Get adequate vitamin E.
It’s no secret that vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, capable of plenty of health benefits especially when it comes to cell-tissue repair. A little-known fact about this vitamin is how supplementation was shown to reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease by up to 41%.  Adequate intake of vitamin E is also linked to a 27% reduction of death and 22% reduction of cancer.
15. Be aware of your cardiac risk profile.
It’s good to know and understand your cardiac risk profile. We’re talking about having yourself tested for heart disease-specific markers such as blood pressure, total cholesterol/HDL ratio, triglycerides, creatine kinase, platelets, and potassium to name a few. For more information on cardiac health monitoring check out our Wellness Tips.
Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact
Start implementing some changes today for better health tomorrow. Small changes can have a big impact. Start with some of the changes that are easier for you at first and work towards the ones that are more challenging. Our habit changer worksheet is a great tool to get you started and if you need help along the way give us a call at 773.878.7330.
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Dr. DeFabio is a highly regarded chiropractor in Chicago who focuses on helping his patients achieve optimal health and wellness. He takes a holistic approach to care, treating symptoms and addressing underlying issues to promote long-term healing. Dr. DeFabio is passionate about empowering his patients to take control of their health and live their best lives. You can find him surfing, skateboarding, and volunteering at the Lakeview Food Pantry when he’s not in the office.