Show Your Heart Some TLC
If you’re overweight, over 40 and don’t have many risk factors for heart disease, consider yourself lucky. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, a stat ever more startling when you consider that up to 80 percent of cases are preventable. One of the most effective ways to reduce risk is losing 5 to 10 percent of your body weight.
For women, slimming down is even more critical, since risk rises as you age: Waning estrogen can shift body fat to the belly area by increasing storage of abdominal fat or by slowing its breakdown, impacting the function of the heart, liver and blood vessels. More proven heart helpers include exercising (five days a week for 30 minutes), limiting alcohol intake (one drink for women or two drinks for men per day) and laying off cigarettes.
3 Simple Ways to Protect Your Heart Right Now
1. Sleep in Silence
Blaring horns and sirens aren’t just annoying; they may hurt your heart even while you’re asleep. In a preliminary study presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference, people who lived near a noisy highway were more likely to develop aortic calcification, a precursor to atherosclerosis (or hardening and narrowing of the arteries). “Nightly noise can take a toll on the body’s stress system, which is closely linked with heart function and may register noise as a threat,” explains Michael A. Grandner, PhD, a sleep researcher at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This is particularly troublesome for adults over 40, who tend to have a harder time falling and staying asleep—and may be more sensitive to disruptions.
While you likely won’t move from your noisy neighborhood, you can minimize the damage. Purchase a fan or a white-noise machine. Also consider hanging heavy drapes and laying down area rugs or wall-to-wall carpet to help absorb sound, or wear soft earplugs to bed.
2. Avoid Energy Drinks
Long marketed to teens, energy drinks are now catching on with adults: Close to 20 percent of women ages 25 to 45 consumed these beverages in 2013, up from 14 percent in 2008, says market research firm Packaged Facts. Empty calories aside, this trend could prove problematic for heart health.
In a preliminary review presented at a scientific meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA), energy drinks were found to significantly raise blood pressure—a red flag for those well past their 20s. “As we get older, the body’s ability to compensate for changes in blood pressure weakens, making us more prone to heart issues,” says Sachin A. Shah, PharmD, one of the study’s lead authors.
Another downside to energy drinks: They may prolong the time it takes for electrical impulses to travel through the lower chambers of the heart, which can lead to life-threatening arrhythmias. Experts aren’t sure if the offending ingredient is caffeine, other stimulants like taurine or a combo of these. To be safe, only buy energy drinks that disclose caffeine content; generally, they vary between 142 and 260 mg per 16-oz drink.
3. Eat More Fish
You may have heard all the benefits of eating a diet rich in fish, but here’s another reason why seafood is the new Cupid: In a recent Harvard University study, people with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were 35 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, versus those with the lowest omega-3 levels. In fact, subjects in the high-omega-3 group lived 2.2 years longer.
Hit the healthy target by eating two 4- to 6-ounce servings of oily fish, which is rich in omega-3s, weekly. Try wild Alaskan salmon, freshwater coho salmon (U.S. farmed), wild Pacific sardines and Atlantic mackerel—these varieties are all sustainably harvested and low in toxic mercury, according to Seafood Watch, a nonprofit program that’s run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Of course, fish prep is important: Stick with baking and broiling, since research shows frying fish can diminish heart-helping properties.
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