5 New Facts About Heart Disease Prevention You Need to Know Right Now
When it comes to health risks, heart disease isn't just one of the biggest, it's at the top for both men and women. But here's the good news: There's plenty you can do for prevention, even if heart disease runs in your family. Here's a look at recent research that provides some great starting points.
Even a few helpings of dark leafy greens makes a difference.
Greens like kale, chard, and spinach are often highlighted for their role in lowering inflammation, which is a big help to your heart. And only a few servings a day can be powerful, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
That research looked at data from over 50,000 men and women and found that those who ate foods rich in vitamin K—like those leafy greens—had a significantly lower risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease than those who ate the lowest amounts. Other foods high in the vitamin include broccoli, beef liver, hard cheeses, and avocados.
An interesting aspect of the research is that those who ate much more of these foods didn't keep lowering risk, says lead author Nicola Bondonno, Ph.D., at the Institute for Nutrition Research, at Edith Cowan University in Australia.
"More didn't equal greater benefits," she notes. "That means having regular servings on a consistent basis was more meaningful than trying to load up on them."
Moderate calorie cutting is better than going too low.
Although slicing your calories down considerably might lead to some weight loss, it's actually better for your heart to adopt a more moderate strategy, even by a few hundred calories.
According to research in the journal Circulation, people who trimmed about 200 calories off their norm and maintained that amount for 20 weeks while incorporating regular exercise into their routines, had major changes in their aortic stiffness.
That's a key measure of your cardiovascular function, and important for preventing heart disease. Participants in the study who cut about 600 calories per day actually didn't see any change, which means the smaller shift made the bigger impact.
You're never too young to start taking preventive measures.
Although people tend to begin thinking about heart disease prevention as they get older—which makes sense, since risk also increases with time—employing strategies as a young adult could pay off in decades ahead.
Here's a big example: A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association that looked at how eating habits affected people age 18 to 30 found that adopting a plant-centered diet in that age range is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease by middle age. That included fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
As part of that shift, the advantages of a plant-based diet can be heightened by limiting consumption of foods high in sodium, added sugars, and trans fats, the researchers added.
Your bedtime may play a role.
Sleep quality and heart health have been well studied in the past, but new research highlights that when you go to bed and when you wake up may actually play a part, too, no matter how well you sleep between them.
A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that sleep timing seemed to affect the risk of developing congestive heart failure. Those who tended to go to bed after 11:00 p.m. and woke up after 8:00 a.m. had the highest risks. That may be because of changes in circadian rhythm, which influences heart health.
That disruption in rhythm could affect you in other ways as well, such as weight gain and higher stress levels, according to Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee.
"If your circadian rhythm is off, your hormones will go into overdrive to try and achieve balance and get you aligned again," she says. "But the result can be overcompensation that has a ripple effect across multiple aspects of your health."
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Supporting your gut helps your heart.
Another strong link for heart health is adequate fiber intake, a connection strengthened by a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, which found that increased consumption of whole grains had significant benefits for blood pressure and cholesterol.
Making sure you get enough fiber daily is a big part of gut health as well as heart health, and the two are interlinked, says senior author Nicola McKeown, Ph.D., a researcher in nutritional epidemiology at the United States Department of Agriculture. Foods like whole grains provide compounds like magnesium and potassium that help with nerve function, blood pressure, and digestion, she says.
That means making changes that benefit your heart are rarely just for your heart—healthy eating, regular physical activity, and de-stress practices can be a boon for your whole body and your emotional health, too.
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