Have you heard your doctor mention the words “intermittent fasting” before? Maybe you’ve read about it online. Today, more and more people are turning to intermittent fasting — not eating, or limiting their food intake, for a period of time — as a way to lose weight. However, in addition to its weight loss benefits, there is growing clinical research which suggests that eating less at certain times of the day can also help improve your heart’s health.
Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! Earth Day is an annual event celebrated around the world on April 22nd to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network in more than 193 countries.
Are you a daily soda drinker? New research shows that adults who drink at least one sugary beverage each day have a greater risk of developing dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at data from more than 6,000 respondents with a similar calorie intake. What they found was that middle-aged and older adults who drink one sugary beverage each day – soda, juice, and other sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) – are more likely to see an increase in triglyceride concentrations, along with being at a higher risk of incident dyslipidemia.
In fact, sugary beverage drinkers had a 98% higher chance of developing low HDL levels (good cholesterol) and a 53% higher chance of developing high triglycerides, according to the study.
Good news for diet soda drinkers, however. Average consumption of low-calorie sweetened beverages (a few drinks each week) was not associated with changes in cholesterol, cholesterol concentrations, or incident lipidemia.
What does this mean for you?
If you’re a daily soda drinker, you’re putting yourself at risk for numerous health problems that go beyond higher cholesterol and heart disease. There have been many different studies explaining the link between soda consumption and diabetes, obesity, and more – and it’s safe to say that consuming too much sugar has a negative impact on your health.
Unfortunately, the only way to curb your sugary beverage habits is to find a healthy alternative and cut back on your consumption. Low-calorie, low-sugar diet sodas can be a suitable alternative, if they’re drank in moderation. Regardless of it being low-calorie or low-sugar, a can of soda every day is bad for you no matter how you slice it.
Have you tried drinking tea?
If you’re looking for a healthy alternative that isn’t just water, unsweetened tea has been shown to have several heart-healthy benefits. One study, which looked at more than 100,000 adults in China over the span of 22 years, found that habitually drinking three cups of tea each week helped lead to:
- 20% lower risk of cardiovascular incident
- 22% reduced risk of cardiovascular death
- 15% reduced risk for premature death
Furthermore, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association, tea consumption helps slow the decrease in HDL (good cholesterol) that naturally occurs during aging, while also reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) that can build up in your arteries.
Whatever you choose, just know that limiting your sugary beverage consumption to just a few drinks each month can help make some significant improvements to your cholesterol and overall health, along with the help of diet and exercise.
While there’s no denying that the benefits of aerobic exercise far outweigh the risks for cardiac patients, a new report from the American Heart Association shows that some types of exercise might actually be detrimental to your long-term health.
One example cited by researchers is when people participate in extreme endurance events like marathon and triathlon training, but aren’t accustomed to the high intensity. In instances like these, researchers found a link between increased activity and increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest, atrial fibrillation, and heart attacks.
“Exercise is medicine, and there is no question that moderate to vigorous physical activity is beneficial to overall cardiovascular health,” says Barry A. Franklin, Ph.D., director of preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Michigan. “However, like medicine, it is possible to underdose and overdose on exercise – more is not always better.”
To put things perspective, researchers found that the risk of atrial fibrillation is highest in people who are sedentary, but the risk is nearly as high in people who engage in high volumes of high-intensity training, like running 60-80 miles each week.
What does this mean for you?
While extreme levels of exercise can be detrimental to your heart, don’t let that stop you from finding a happy medium. Not exercising at all is still a far greater risk to your health, so it’s important that you find a physical activity that you enjoy. If you don’t exercise at all, even daily tasks like shoveling snow can become a burden and cause a rapid spike in heart rate, blood pressure, and shortness of breath when you participate.
Likewise, don’t let these findings discourage you from setting your fitness sights on a lofty goal like running a marathon. There are healthy ways to start an exercise program, it’s just important that you take your time so that you don’t over strain your heart.
To help you do just that, here are several tips for starting a heart-healthy workout routine:
- Talk to Your Doctor – Before you start a strenuous exercise routine, it’s important that you talk to your doctor to make sure that you’re healthy enough to begin. This is especially important for anyone at a moderate to significant risk of suffering a cardiac event, anyone with previous cardiac problems, or for anyone who’s currently inactive/sedentary.
- Start Slow – Even if you were athlete in high school or college, it’s important that you start slow and gradually work your way up to different levels of physical activity. If you’ve been sedentary for several years, for example, start by walking on a level surface for 6-8 weeks before progressing to walking up hills, jogging, and running. You want to make sure there aren’t any symptoms of chest pain, pressure, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath before you advance to more strenuous activities.
- Don’t Forget to Warm Up – In the same mindset of “start slow”, make sure you take the time to properly stretch and get your heart rate up a little bit before starting your exercise routine. Jumping directly into intense exercise can put you at a greater risk for suffering a cardiac event.
- Acclimate to Your Environment – If you’re going to be exercising at altitude or running in extremely hot and humid conditions, make sure your prepared beforehand and know your limits. In altitude conditions, try acclimating to the altitude for 24-48 hours before exercising if possible, and don’t be afraid to cut your exercise short as opposed to overstraining your heart and body.
- Cool Off – Once you’re done exercising, it’s important that you take the time to properly cool off and allow your heart rate to return to its resting rhythm. If you experience any persistent chest pain, pressure, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath after you’ve ended your exercise and have had time to rest, make sure you talk to a doctor right away.
If you have any questions for your cardiologist about starting an exercise program, make sure you schedule an appointment before getting started. Current Heart and Vascular Institute patients can also use the Patient Portal to contact their cardiologist electronically.
If you aren’t getting quality sleep each night, you’re doing more than just missing out on a few hours of rest. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, poor sleep quality in women was linked with greater food intake and lower-quality diet. These findings overlap with previous studies in which researchers have shown a connection between not getting enough sleep and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Eating a healthy diet has always been a key factor in maintaining a healthy heart, and researchers hope this new research can help provide a better explanation for how sleep quality impacts eating habits as opposed to just sleep duration.
What they found was that women with worse sleep quality had a tendency to eat more sugars and fewer whole grains, while those who had trouble falling asleep ate more calories and food by weight.
What does this mean for you?
Researchers say that more studies need to be done to see how improving sleep quality could impact efforts to improve heart health in women, but for now it’s important that you get a quality, full night sleep. Try getting the recommended 8 hours every night, but it’s important that you focus on quality as much as quantity. By waking up with energy, it encourages you to be more active throughout the day and can also have a positive impact on your diet and appetite.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try following some of the tips below before speaking with your doctor:
- Stay on schedule – Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. This will help your body maintain a natural, healthy sleep schedule.
- Exercise daily – Moderate exercise during the day has been shown to help people get deeper sleep. Make sure you avoid exercise near bedtime, however, as that can make it harder to fall asleep.
- Avoid artificial light at night – Did you know the light created by your electronic devices and certain household lights can trick your brain into thinking its sunlight? Limit your screen time at night or look into blue light blocking lenses to help keep your body’s natural clock in rhythm.
- No late-night snacks – Eating late in the evening before your bed time can make it harder to sleep, and has also been linked to increased weight.
- Keep a cool bedroom – When your body gets ready to fall asleep, it prepares itself by lowering its core temperature. Keeping a cooler bedroom (approx. 65°F) will help assist that natural transition to sleep.
If these tips don’t work and you’re still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about further treatment.
Breakfast has always been considered the most important meal of the day. That said, Americans only have time to eat breakfast 3 times per week on average, with many skipping it altogether. This is especially alarming for cardiologists to hear, as previous studies have shown a link between skipping breakfast and increased chances of cardiovascular diseases.
Valentine’s Day is all about showing your sweetheart how much you care about them. With it being National Heart Month, it’s also important that you show your heart how much you care about it, too! If you and your loved one are looking to indulge in some heart-healthy Valentine’s Day activities, here are some of our favorite ideas taken from the American Heart Association.
- Rather than tempting your loved one with chocolates, send a fruit basket that has natural sugar and healthy nutrients instead of sweets with added sugars.
- Quality time is one of the most meaningful gifts. Bundle up and plan a heart-healthy activity like ice skating, a wintery walk, or if you’re feeling adventurous, visit an indoor rock-climbing wall!
- If your children are having Valentine’s Day party at their school or daycare, consider sending pretzels, pencils, or stickers as tokens of their friendly affection, instead of candy.
- Cooking at home is an excellent way to control the quality and amounts of what you eat. Spend time with your loved one learning a new heart-healthy recipe and preparing a romantic, candlelit dinner.
- If you do go out for a romantic dinner date, consider ordering one entrée to share. Many restaurant servings are enough for two and splitting one can help keep you from overdoing it.
- Know before you go – make it a point to look up the menu and nutrition information for the restaurant you’re going to ahead of time (most restaurants should have this available online) and take note of what might be good to order.
- Take it slow! If you were gifted a luxurious box of chocolates from your sweetie, stick it in the fridge or freezer and enjoy in moderation over several weeks.
- Don’t forget to share your love with your pets! Give your pet a Valentine and take them for a long walk today. Not only do you get to bond with your pet, but it’s also a great healthy activity.
- Use this day as an opportunity to tell your loved one how you feel about him or her, and share ways that you can support each other’s health and wellness goals.
- One of the best things you can do for your heart is to give up smoking or help a loved one quit. Make a commitment for your loved ones that will have a lasting impact.
As always, Calcium Score Tests are only $25 at Heart and Vascular Institute of Wisconsin if you’re looking for the ultimate heart-healthy Valentine’s Day gift! Schedule yours online today.
For the last 10 years, U.S. News has assembled a panel of experts to rank the best diets for improving heart health and preventing heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and the heart-healthy diets selected by these experts have been proven to help people lose weight, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and even help reverse heart disease.
All the diets from this list are approved and recommended by Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologists. Before starting a diet, however, make sure to consult your primary care provider if you have any questions or concerns.
The Best Diets for Your Heart:
#1 – Ornish Diet
Ranked as the #1 heart-healthy diet for the 9th time in 10 years, the Ornish diet has built a reputation as being THE most successful diet for improving heart health, preventing heart disease, and reversing its effects. Developed by Dean Ornish, a physician and professor at UC San Francisco, the Ornish diet is low in refined carbs, fat, and animal products, while also asking dieters to undergo several lifestyle improvements, including exercise, yoga, meditation, stress management, and more. That said, it’s the only scientifically proven diet program to reverse heart disease in randomized controlled trials without drugs or surgery, making the disciplined approach well worth the reward.
#2 – Mediterranean Diet
Coming in as the #1 Best Overall Diet by U.S. News, the Mediterranean diet is one of the most-studied diets for the prevention of heart disease. It’s long been known that people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less from cancer and cardiovascular ailments than most Americans, with their diet and lifestyle being key contributing factors. Today, the Mediterranean diet has become one of the easiest to follow and manage, as well as providing proven results for lowering the risk of heart disease.
#3 – DASH Diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to stop or prevent hypertension (high blood pressure). The DASH diet is fairly simple to follow, as it emphasizes healthy foods you’re used to eating like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy while discouraging foods that are high in saturated fats and sodium. It ranked only behind the Mediterranean diet for #2 Best Overall Diet according to U.S. News, in large part for its balance and ease to follow long-term. Not only is DASH an excellent diet for all-around health improvements, but also heart-specific improvements as well.
To see a complete list of the 12 Best Heart Diets, please visit U.S. News.