Every year, roughly 610,000 Americans die of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the US for both sexes. But there is good news. Research shows that even little shifts in diet and lifestyle can significantly boost your heart health. Big bonus: Several require little or no effort. Prominent cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn suggests 10 surprising lifestyle tweaks that can make a big difference…
1–Start fidgeting. Yes, you may have been told to sit still as a child, but that was then. Heart disease studies in the UK compared women who habitually sat still with women who regularly fidgeted (e.g., swinging legs, tapping toes, shifting weight) while seated. Over 12 years of follow-up, fidgeters developed heart disease significantly less frequently than women who sat still. Why? Fidgeting is a physical activity, and every bit of movement helps keep blood and oxygen circulating, even if you’re glued to a computer all day. Extra benefit: Little movements burn calories. Fidgeters generally burn around 300 extra calories per day. It’s all about movement.
2–See a dentist. You probably already know that periodontal (gum) disease—which half of American adults have—means that you have two to three times greater risk for heart disease than people with healthy gums. But what you may not know is that patients with periodontitis who received treatment—such as special cleanings or, in more advanced cases, surgery—showed an improved cardiovascular risk profile. That’s good news! What’s the connection? Periodontal disease is a hidden source of inflammation and infection that can age the body, the brain and the heart. There is a growing connection between regular oral health checks and avoiding arterial and heart disease. Simply brushing twice a day and flossing daily, along with limiting sugary beverages and snacks, will reduce your risk significantly. Your dentist can tell you how often you need cleanings, based on your assessed risks for periodontal disease. Insurance usually covers two a year, but if you need more, it’s an inexpensive investment in your health.
3–Add ground flaxseed to your food. Just two tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day sprinkled on your cereal, salad, yogurt, smoothie or other foods can make a healthy difference. Ground flaxseed, with its nutty taste, is packed with heart-healthy nutrients, including protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. A meta-analysis of 15 trials published in Clinical Nutrition found significant reductions in both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure after regular supplementation with flaxseed powder or flaxseed oil. Drink lots of water to avoid possible digestive problems.
4–Drink two cups of hibiscus tea daily. The hibiscus plant is a significant source of antioxidants. Hibiscus tea tops the rankings for antioxidant power, even beating matcha (a drink made from powdered green tea leaves), according to NutritionFacts.org. Hibiscus tea also lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, according to a randomized controlled trial reported in Journal of Human Hypertension. At the end of the trial, 21% of participants had normalized their blood pressure. This brightly colored tea has a pleasantly tart, fruity taste, hot or cold.
5 Sit in a sauna. Scandinavians and others have sweated it out in the moist heat of saunas for centuries to soothe muscles and relax. But saunas offer other significant benefits as well. Studies from Japan (using dry sauna) and Finland (using wet sauna) demonstrate stronger hearts and longer lives. Why is the sauna experience so powerful? Research published in Alternative Medicine Review found that sauna users (with radiant heat or far-infrared units) received multiple health benefits including relief from COPD, chronic fatigue and chronic pain. Try sitting in a sauna at least once a week for 15 to 20 minutes per session.
6–Eat garlic daily. Garlic is a well-known immune system booster and antioxidant. It even can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. In studies at UCLA, aged black garlic extract helped maintain clean arteries in patients with metabolic syndrome by lowering the accumulation of plaque that can cause heart disease. Aged black garlic is available online, but you also can use regular garlic for heart-healthy benefits.
7–Walk barefoot in the grass. Believe it or don’t, but growing evidence reveals that direct contact of your body with the earth (called grounding or earthing) helps your heart, eases inflammation and can create a healthier circulatory system. The connection helps reduce blood viscosity—elevated viscosity hinders delivery of oxygen to blood cells. Going barefoot 30 or 40 minutes a day may reduce cardiac events, according to The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. So shake your shoes off, and get your toes on the ground.
8–Give your digestive system a rest. Periodic and intermittent fasting has many benefits, including disease prevention. Studies show that practicing time-restricted eating for at least 12 hours a day (for example, fasting from 8 pm to 8 am) promotes healing and repair of the body. It’s an obvious statement, but fasting for certain hours each day means that most people eat less. Fasting and its associated weight loss have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.
9–Stand for five minutes every half hour while awake. By now, most people have heard that being sedentary is an independent risk factor for heart disease and stroke. But did you know that this is true even if you exercise regularly? Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in the morning or evening does not compensate for prolonged sitting, according to an American Heart Disease Scientific Statement. And yet Americans are sedentary for about six to eight hours a day—it’s 8.5 to 9.6 hours for those age 60 and over. Move every half hour to help maintain healthy blood sugar and weight. Simply walk away from your desk or stand and stretch for a few minutes.
10–Get busy in bed. A study published in The BMJ from Caerphilly, Wales, followed the sex lives of 918 men ages 45 to 59 for 10 years. The results indicate that frequent (twice a week or more) orgasmic activity can reduce the risk for heart attack by 50%. Research hasn’t confirmed whether women would reap the same benefits, but it can’t hurt to try.