The holiday of hearts and Cupid is upon us. My husband and I continue to debate the validity of Valentine’s Day. Is the day a lighthearted exchange, one that boosts greeting card sales, chocolates and dinner dates? Or is it deeper than that – a time to celebrate and appreciate the love in our lives? I’ll stick to the latter, and maybe it’s the nutritionist in me, but I’ll go even further to include appreciation for our hearts. Heart health, specifically. Whichever perspective resonates with you, caring for ourselves and those we love is really at the heart of it all.
But it’s more than love that keeps your heart pumping. Did you know that your heart beats about 100,000 times a day? That’s a fun fact courtesy of the American Heart Association. A not-so-fun fact is that heart disease remains the #1 cause of death in the US. With that said, here are some common-sense science-supported ways to prioritize cardiovascular wellbeing:
- Eat right.
- Exercise regularly, both cardio and strength-training. Be active throughout the day.
- Practice stress management.
- Get quality sleep.
I doubt any of these surprise you. What might raise an eyebrow is the research on certain vitamins, minerals and compounds, many of which may already be helping your heart without you even knowing it.
“Eating right” might seem like a no brainer, but it’s not always easy. In today’s typical on-the-go lifestyle even the healthiest diet doesn’t necessarily give you enough of some critical nutrients for your heart. Therefore, an easy first step is that daily multivitamin. Need a belated (and easy) 2013 resolution? Pop your multi with pride. These heart-healthy nutrients are likely in there:
- Vitamin D - supports healthy circulation and healthy inflammation levels
- Calcium - helps to balance the beating of the heart, the circulatory system and blood pressure
- Magnesium - supports blood pressure balance
- Potassium- crucial (in balance with sodium) for healthy blood pressure
- Selenium - antioxidant; selenomethionine form is important to overall blood and heart health
- Vitamin C - antioxidant; may be helpful for promoting healthy blood pressure levels
- Niacin - promotes open, clear arteries and healthy levels of triglycerides, HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
Keep in mind that the nutrient amounts in a multivitamin are just enough to cover deficiencies. For concentrated heart benefits, the therapeutic levels needed may be more than what’s in a standard multi, so please talk to your health care provider to learn more.
Essential Fatty Acids
No less important for the heart than vitamins and minerals are essential fatty acids, or EFAs. We’d need a week of blog posts to properly shower essential fats with props. Here are the basics.
- EFAs - help prevent harmful inflammation. (Think omega-6s and omega-3s, in a ratio of about 3:1.) The body cannot synthesize these; they must come from food or supplements. Go-to supplement sources: flaxseed oil, hemp oil, fish oil.
Fiber and Antioxidants
Next, it’s our old friend (and sometimes savior) fiber. All kinds of fiber contribute to health, but it’s the soluble stuff that has been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels. (Oats and beans please!)
Finally, antioxidants. While they have no business being last in this line-up, let’s follow our heart-healthy plan and “not stress about it.” Plus, they say that info at the end of an article tends to stick, so remember this: There seems to be no end to research on antioxidant cardio protection. So here’s a list of just a few antioxidant sources: carotenoids (including lutein and lycopene) found in many fruits and vegetables, catechins in green tea, polyphenols in grape seed extract, bioflavonoids in hawthorne, CoQ10, active constituents in many spices, as well as vitamin C and selenium. I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.
How do you keep your heart beating strong for your loved ones?