Following the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is clearly the wisest approach concerning matters of a woman’s heart. Despite the alarming messages you often hear about breast cancer, diseases of the heart are the leading causes of death of women in the United States. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, “one in 10 American women 45 to 64 years of age has some form of heart disease, and this increases to one in four women over the age of 65.”
There are many different kinds of heart disease, but for women, the leading cause of heart-related deaths is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.
When healthy, your arteries bring oxygen-rich blood to every cell in your body. When they fill with cholesterol deposits called plaque, they can no longer deliver blood efficiently. If the coronary arteries that supply your heart with blood become clogged with plaque, you can experience pain in your chest (angina) or, in more advanced cases, a heart attack.
The good news is that in most cases, heart disease is preventable. You can keep your heart healthy through diet and lifestyle choices. Because heart disease can begin early in life, it’s important to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle from an early age.
However, it’s never too late to get started; you can improve your heart health even if you already have heart disease.
Your heart is an amazing muscle that beats more than 100,000 times per day -— close to 2.5 billion times in your lifetime — without your conscious effort. It thrives on regular physical activity and excellent nutrition.
Exercise strengthens your heart and enhances circulation so that every cell in your body receives more blood and oxygen. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to have a healthy heart. It’s great to exercise every day if you can, but studies suggest that you can get away with a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week. You don’t have to exercise to the point of exhaustion — just exercise to reach your target heart rate, which is 50 percent to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. A physical fitness instructor can help you calculate your target heart rate.
Research shows that a Mediterranean diet is the best diet for promoting heart health. Heart-healthy foods include ginger, garlic, walnuts, soybeans, flax oil, olive oil, whole grains, cold-water fish, fruit (especially berries) and an abundance of vegetables.
A study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease through their ability to lower cholesterol. Walnuts, cold-water fish — salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, trout and Atlantic cod — and flax oil contain favorable omega-3 fats. Flax oil should never be heated; instead, add it to your favorite salad dressing. Recommended daily intake is 1 tablespoon.
Avoid all saturated fats such as animal fat, butter, palm kernel oil, and the hydrogenated fats found in margarines and many baked goods. If you enjoy dairy products, always choose the nonfat versions. If you eat poultry, remove all of the fat, including the skin, before cooking.
Choose heart-healthy methods of cooking, such as baking, electric grilling, steaming or poaching. It’s best to avoid frying, but if you do fry occasionally, use olive oil. Never fry with safflower, sunflower, corn, or soy oil. These oils are omega-6 fats and, when heated, turn into toxic compounds called free radicals that can damage your tissues.
Are eggs bad for your heart? Studies say that for most people, no. However, if you have high cholesterol, it’s best to eat only the egg whites.
You can make choices everyday to have a healthy heart. Through diet and exercise, you can practice an ounce of prevention to save pounds of cure.
In my next couple of columns, which appear monthly (my columns rotate with those by the other Prescriptions writers), I will address other major issues related to women’s heart health, such as hormone replacement therapy, nutritional supplements that support your heart and natural ways to lower cholesterol, as well as take a look at how Chinese medicine perceives a truly healthy heart.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com