by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Every day, minute by minute, our hearts beat – pumping life sustaining blood through our bodies – keeping our vital organs healthy and functioning – and many of us never even think about the power of this tremendous organ. Nurturing your heart, even in the smallest of ways, is vital to your health. Nurturing can take many forms – eating a heart healthy diet, managing stress, maintaining an exercise routine and keeping joy in your life are all important in keeping your heart healthy!
Some women have genetic factors or a family history which brings more attention to their heart health. Having this information is a real plus! It gives opportunity to change diet and lifestyle factors which gives great promise for lifelong heart health!
There are some specific things you can do to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Below are my top 5.
- Your heart is a muscle and needs exercise! If you haven’t exercised in a while, then build slowly. Start with 5-10 minutes a day and work up to the current guideline of 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Women who find a form of exercise they love have the most success – for some it is walking 30 minutes per day with a friend. For others, it is walking 30 minutes a day alone. Other people love yoga, some zumba – and some like to do something different every day!
- Practice good eating! What you eat definitely affects your insulin levels which will affect your metabolism and your cholesterol. A diet high in vegetables and low in simple carbohydrates and saturated fat can reduce cholesterol levels – sometimes as effectively as statin drugs – without the side effects! I’ve seen many patients change their insulin resistance and lower their cholesterol by following these proven dietary guidelines.
- Create some good stress management techniques. We all have stressors in our lives – and some we don’t have much control over. What we can control is our reaction to the situation – and we can control what we can do to relieve stress. If it is in your belief system and financially available, therapy can often work to keep stressors in perspective. Journaling, mediation, talking with a friend and support groups can also help. Making a list of those things which cause stress can be helpful, too. Some women find this a powerful tool – they can see exactly how much they are doing – and then make good, realistic decisions about what they want to continue.
- Incorporate a medical grade multivitamin-mineral dietary supplement. Its difficult today to get all the nutrients we need from our American diet. We recommend adding a fish oil supplement to your daily regime as well. Nutritional gaps can lead to an inefficient metabolism, inflammation and elevated homocysteine levels which can all affect cardiac function.
- If testing reveals high levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein) and LDL, you may want to consider medication. A statin drug such as Lipitor may be warranted, even for a short time to help protect your heart until your dietary and lifestyle changes take effect. I would always recommend taking the lowest effective dose recommended in combination with ribose, L-carnitine, Co-Q10 and selenium supplements to reduce any side effects. Recent studies show that statin drugs do effectively reduce inflammation and cholesterol. If you do take a stain, its important to have your liver enzymes tested regularly to monitor side effects. Aspirin (80-100 mg daily) can also have significant preventative effects.
Some patients who come to see me are just not ready to make lifestyle changes – some don’t feel they have the energy, some don’t see the need, and some tell me that they don’t have the time. My message to patients who feel this way are two fold – first – if you don’t change your life, your life may change you – and sometimes those changes are really hard ones to accept. Secondly, I know you can make changes – one step at a time and those steps are very much worth it, particularly when it comes to your heart health. While a change in heart health along the lifespan is not inevitable, it does affect many of us. Think of the feeling of empowerment when you decide that YOU can take part in the outcome of your health!
So many women come to my office asking about a low fat diet plan for their heart health – and while many are surprised by my answers to them, I am so glad I have the opportunity to set this myth aside. Switching to a low fat diet or low fat food products is not the answer for your heart! This can accelerate the development of a heart condition! A diet rich in healthy fats – unsaturated oils that come from plans and relatively moderate amounts of saturated fats found in meat and dairy products are all heart healthy. Essential fatty acids are vital to your health – they are critical to control insulin, reduce inflammation and most importantly for your heart health to metabolize cholesterol. Avoiding trans fats is paramount. These fats are primarily found in processed foods.
If you are a smoker, I have to implore you to find the support you need to stop. Heart disease and smoking are deathly companions. Smoking increase inflammation, diminishes oxygen uptake, irritates the lungs and makes artherosclerosis worse.
Heart disease doesn’t have to be in your future – you can take control over your heart health! We know that there’s so much that can be done to keep your heart healthy – AND it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. IF you need the support of a statin drug now it doesn’t mean that you will need this forever – there are changes that you can make which will make a difference!
We all want our hearts to stay healthy, beat strong and sing with joy! Do your part in keeping yours healthy!