Eating a healthful diet, getting regular exercise and quitting smoking are all integral parts of having a healthy heart. Although it’s well worth it, it’s no secret these things can take some time and effort. However, there are also simple steps you can take to improve your heart healthy habits that are so easy, you can start today.
CUT BACK ON RED MEAT.
New research has shown a good reason to eschew red meat – and it has nothing to do with fat. A recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that people who ate a diet rich in red meat have triple the levels of trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, a gut-generated chemical linked to heart disease, when compared to those who ate a diet rich in either white meat or plant proteins.
TMAO is partly derived from nutrients that are abundant in red meat and is increasingly being identified as a contributor to heart disease. The good news: discontinuation of red meat was found to lower TMAO levels. The research suggests that measuring TMAO, which can be done via a blood test, could be a new strategy in fighting heart disease.
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH FATS.
When it comes to our diets, not all fat is created equal. While saturated fats, such as those found in meat and dairy, are linked to heart disease, unsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts and olive oil, actually have health benefits according to experts.
“Saturated fat is a precursor to the formation of cholesterol and plaque in the blood vessels,” says Samir Dabbous, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with Beaumont Health. “Unsaturated fats are the preferred form.”
One caveat: some oils, such as olive oil, have low smoke points and become unhealthy if they are heated too much. “Some oils when you’re frying convert into saturated fat which becomes oxidized,” says Dabbous. “Make sure you know your oil’s smoke point, because when oil smokes it can become hazardous.”
HUGGING A HEART HEALTHY HABITS.
A warm embrace not only makes you feel good, it’s good for you. A recent study of premenopausal women published in the journal Biological Psychology found that frequent hugs between women and their partners lowered blood pressure and raised levels of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in social bonding. Don’t have a partner? Give a squeeze to your child, friend or pet, and you’ll likely experience the same effects.
DON’T FILL UP BEFORE BED.
Like to have a late dinner or perhaps a snack before you turn in? You could be harming your health, says Dabbous. “What happens is having a late dinner or snacking can cause an upset stomach and keep the person up longer,” he says. “When you eat you need to do some type of physical activity afterwards. If you eat, watch TV then go to bed, you’re basically storing everything and not burning anything.”
Dabbous says making sure you don’t eat within two hours of going to bed improves sleep and metabolism and enhances digestion – all of which are good for your heart and your body.
KNOW YOUR NUMBERS.
You’ve probably heard this one before, and with good reason. That’s because knowing your weight, blood pressure, waist circumference and blood sugar and cholesterol levels is one of the most important things you can do for your health, especially if you have a family history of heart disease, according to Dabbous.
“Most patients arriving to the hospital with a heart attack never knew they had diabetes or high cholesterol to begin with,” he says. “You’d be surprised how many people walking around, even doctors, don’t know their cholesterol or blood sugar, or if they did check, it was probably 10 years ago.”
Haven’t checked your numbers in a while? A quick phone call to make a doctor’s appointment can solve that. “I tell all people, especially those with a family history of heart disease or multiple risk factors, you should be aware of your numbers. If you know them, then you can start working on improving them,” says Dabbous.