Get some insight into current perspectives on dietary factors in cardiovascular disease, and read the facts on flora. Treat your heart to some exercise, and find out if wearable technology is a fit for you.
Fats, Flora, and Fitness
Positive ways to enhance your heart health
WRITTEN BY Gillian Flower, ND @GillianFlowerND
The last decade has seen a revolution in our understanding of cardiac health. Perspectives on dietary saturated fats are shifting, awareness of the role of gut flora is deepening, and the omnipresent activity tracker is evolving into an attractive accessory. What are the best ways to give our ever-faithful hearts a little tender loving care?
Heart what you eat
While high levels of blood cholesterol are seen as contributors to cardiovascular disease, perspectives on dietary fats are shifting. Saturated fats have long been demonized as a major cause of atherosclerosis, but recent studies of foods rich in saturated fats, such as avocado, coconut oil, and even yogurt and cheese, demonstrate little cause for concern.
Why are decades of public messaging being turned on their collective head? Saturated fats are commonly found in processed foods, which are an abundant source of calories and inflammatory trans fats. It may be a case of guilt by association—the processed food rather than the fat may have been the culprit all along.
In addition, a jarring revelation in the revered Journal of the American Medical Association discloses that the role of sugar in cardiovascular disease may have been intentionally downplayed through industry-funded research. Perhaps we were simply misguided in branding saturated fats as the archenemy of the heart.
The Mediterranean diet is the most studied dietary approach for cardiac prevention and encourages consideration of dietary patterns rather than the condemnation of individual nutrients. This plan endorses unprocessed plant-based foods and fats, fortifies the move away from low-fat diets, and trumpets nuts and olive oil as champions of cardiovascular health.
Fascinating new research highlights a route to heart health through the gut. Unhealthy flora may alter our body’s handling of red meats in particular and may help to illuminate the harmful effects of some foods. As whole grains and fermented foods influence our internal ecosystem, choosing them may provide additional benefit to our heart and circulation.
Moving toward a healthy heart
Regular activity has meaningful effects on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Exercise can decrease blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, elevate our mood, and decrease our risk of dying from heart disease. No drug can claim all of these remarkable effects.
Canadian guidelines recommend 150 minutes weekly of moderate to vigorous exercise and two days of bone and muscle strengthening activities. Moderate intensity activity increases respiration and heart rate and could include brisk walking, swimming, or biking. Vigorous activities should leave you sweaty and breathing rapidly and include running, aerobics, and many team sports.
While the guidelines may be clear, the execution is the stumbling block for most of us.
Wearables—fad or function?
A wide range of gear, gadgets, and smartphones can track and record every aspect of your daily activity, food intake, and body measurement. But are these watches, clips, and pendants doing you any favours or just giving you less money to buy chocolate?
As far as cardiovascular risk factors are concerned, people wearing activity trackers take more steps and feel more motivated to exercise. Other studies link wearables and online food journalling with improved weight loss.
Unfortunately, the novelty wears off after a while, along with benefits of activity levels. Engagement with an app can help keep interest going, but the long-term effects of wearable technology on cardiovascular health still remain to be seen.
To drink or not to drink …
Aside from diet and exercise, other lifestyle practices can nourish our cardiovascular system.
The relationship of alcohol to heart health epitomizes the adage of everything in moderation. Low to moderate intake (one drink daily for women, two for men) is associated with improved blood cholesterol and reduced risk of cardiac mortality. Less is more for stroke incidence where risk is lowest with less than a drink per day. While red wine may be packed with blood-boosting antioxidants, overindulgence can increase cardiac risk by contributing to obesity and increased blood pressure.
Sleep more, stress less
Sleep is an underappreciated supporter of heart function. For people who eat well, exercise, and don’t smoke, ensuring seven hours of sleep per night further decreases cardiovascular risk. Effective stress management techniques can convey additional benefit.
Show your heart a little love with the right foods, healthy flora, and a good night’s sleep. You’ll be taking even more than 10,000 steps in the right direction.
Risk factors you can change
You may not be able to change your age, gender at birth, or family history, but you could influence
- elevated blood pressure
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- insulin resistance and diabetes
- lack of activity
A few heart-health supplement helpers
In addition to eating a healthy diet, exercising, and managing your weight, these supplements may provide some benefit.
- can increase HDL (good) cholesterol while decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol
- may have an impact on waist circumference, blood pressure, triglycerides, and insulin resistance
Omega-3 fatty acids
- a marine or vegan source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a second heart attack
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- antioxidant nutrient long used as part of protocols for those with heart failure
- promotes reductions in blood pressure
- deficiency is associated with higher blood pressure, coronary artery calcification, and risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Get moving—here’s how!
What type of movement or activity do you really enjoy?
Feeling blocked? Write or talk about it. Gently explore your reasons for not exercising.
When will you exercise? What food/clothing is needed? How will the seasons affect your activity?
Buddy up for company while harnessing some positive peer pressure.
Walk or bike to work, have walking meetings, plan active times with friends rather than coffee dates.