Simple changes that can help keep your ticker in great shape

There are more heart-related deaths during the holiday season than at any other time of year. However, its important to think about heart health all year-long. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. Every 25 seconds, an American experiences a coronary event, and someone dies from heart disease about every 50 seconds. That’s 600,000 deaths per year.

When it comes to improving your heart health, simple changes can make a big difference. Study after study has shown that lifestyle is the single biggest risk factor in developing heart disease, so lets review the basic lifestyle choices you can make to ensure that your heart stays healthy in 2012 and beyond.

A healthy diet is key

An overwhelming amount of scientific research has confirmed that a healthy diet is the key to overall heart health. A diet centered on fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains and fish delivers long-term protection for the heart and vascular system. Eat one food from each of these categories three times per week and you’ll help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure while supporting a healthy weight:

  • Omega-3s: flaxseed, cold-water fish like salmon
  • Fiber: oatmeal, black beans, brown rice, broccoli
  • Antioxidants: sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, blueberries, tomatoes, citrus fruits, green tea
  • Healthy fats: almonds, walnuts, avocado
  • Mineral-rich foods: spinach, kale, asparagus, squash

Limiting your intake of saturated fats, red meat, processed sugar and white flour will also reduce your cardiovascular risk.

Get moving

It’s common knowledge that exercise helps keep your heart healthy. Regular, moderate exercise strengthens your heart and promotes blood flow throughout your body. Aerobic exercise also lowers your resting heart rate, reduces your blood pressure and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, bicycling (stationary or outdoor), cross-country skiing, rowing and low-impact aerobics or water aerobics. You should exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at least four to five times per week.


De-stress and save your arteries

Unrelieved stress can do severe damage to your health. Chronic stress floods your body with  hormones that, over time, can increase blood pressure and cause inflammation in your blood vessels. This elevates your risk of clots and blockages that can cause strokes and heart attacks. It’s crucial to find ways to relax and reduce the stress response. Try to get more sleep. Practice deep breathing. Do yoga. Take a daily walk in nature. Laugh. Work out at the gym. Even petting a dog or cat has been shown to reduce stress and relax you. Make stress management a part of your daily life.


Take care of your gums

Your dentist is actually a vital part of your healthy heart strategy. Many studies have linked gum disease with heart disease; in fact, the American Academy of Periodontology says that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease as those with healthy gums. Perform daily dental hygiene (floss and brush), get annual dental exams and have your teeth cleaned twice a year.


Optimize your nutrition with supplements

Supplementing with research-proven nutrients can provide a boost to your heart health.

Focus on these cardio-boosting supplements:

  • Nitric Oxide (NO) supportive nutrients Never heard of nitric oxide? See the sidebar on this page. Your body makes this important gas in the lining of your arteries. NO helps lower your blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels. Amino acids like L-arginine and L-citrulline and antioxidants like vitamin C help ensure that your body makes all the NO that it can.
  • Vitamin D Several large studies have shown that people with low vitamin D levels were twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other heart-related event, compared with those with higher vitamin D levels.
  • Omega-3s from fish oil Research shows that people who take omega-3s improve heart function and exercise capacity.
  • CoQ10 This nutrient is critical for energy production in the heart muscle and helps keep the heart functioning optimally.

Work with your physician, dentist and pharmacist to develop a program that gets your heart in the best shape possible.

Nitric Oxide Why You Need More NO

Nitric oxide (chemical formula NO) is one of the most important substances in the body. Nobel Prize-winning research shows that NO reduces blood pressure and improves circulation by causing blood vessels to dilate, prevents the buildup of arterial plaque, lowers cholesterol and improves immune system function.

How can you increase your levels of NO?

  • Take L-arginine and L-citrulline supplements daily. These safe amino acids act together to boost NO levels in the bloodstream.
  • Eat nitrate-rich foods. Foods like beets, spinach, lettuce and radishes contain nitrates that convert to NO in the body. Also, eat foods rich in antioxidants to prevent NO from breaking down.
  • Exercise. Exercise boosts levels of an enzyme called nitric oxide synthase. This enzyme is a chemical signaling molecule that produces NO, which opens blood vessels to meet the body’s higher circulatory demands during exercise.

Dr. Andrew Myers is an expert in nutrition and preventive medicine and the coauthor of Health Is Wealth, 10 Power Nutrients that Increase Your Odds of Living to 100 and Health is Wealth Performance Nutrition. Please visit his website at