Cindy Geyer, M.D., Medical Director, Canyon Ranch in Lenox
By Cindy Geyer, M.D.
What are you wishing for this Valentine’s Day? Chocolates? Flowers? How about a healthier heart? With heart disease as the leading health issue facing women, especially over the age of 55, it’s clear this vital organ isn’t getting the attention it deserves. So what better time to start showing your heart a little love than Valentine’s Day?
Although genetics play a role in a woman’s risk for heart disease, recent literature suggests that 8 out of 10 heart attacks could be prevented with a healthy lifestyle. So here are my top ten recommendations for nourishing your heart and reducing your risk of heart disease:
- Know your numbers. Risk factors for heart disease include elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and diabetes, and chronic inflammation. Ask your doctor to test your indicators for these conditions. If your numbers are higher than optimal, a number of options exist to lower them, ranging from diet and lifestyle to medications.
- If you smoke, quit now. Cigarette smoking nearly quadruples your risk of heart disease. If you quit today, you can lower your risk by 30% in just one year!
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being obese or overweight contributes significantly to heart risk, and if that weight is located around your midsection, you’re at higher risk for heart attack, stroke and diabetes. If your weight is a concern, consider working with a dietician.
- Focus on fiber. Fiber can be found naturally in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Fiber helps you feel full and satisfied, making it easier to eat less and maintain a healthy weight. Fiber also lowers levels of LDL cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides. Fiber is even associated with a lowering of CRP, the marker of inflammation. Try to get about 35-40 grams of fiber daily. The old adage is true - beans really are good for your heart!
- Load up on Omega-3’s. The omega-3 fats found in fish, nuts and seeds help improve levels of the heart-protective HDL cholesterol and can have beneficial effects on blood vessels and inflammation. Aim for at least 2 servings of fish weekly, and include other omega-3 rich foods such as a handful of almonds or walnuts on a daily basis.
- Color your plate. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain minerals such as potassium and magnesium as well as phytonutrients, which can lower blood pressure and improve the elasticity of our artery walls. An ounce of dark chocolate may have similar benefits!
- Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. If you can wake up without an alarm clock, feel rested and refreshed, and maintain good energy all day, you are probably getting enough sleep. If you wake up tired, feel sleepy in the afternoon, and especially if you snore, talk to your doctor to see if you may have a health condition such as sleep apnea.
- Move your body. Exercise is one of the most powerful tools for keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy- just 30 minutes of movement or walking 5 times a week is all it takes.
- Play, laugh, go out with your girlfriends. A recent study found that stress accounts for 20% of heart attacks across the world! Although we cannot always control the factors that contribute to stress, by having fun and connecting with other people, we can change the impact stress has on our bodies and reduce its risks.
- Reach out to others. Giving to others not only improves their lives and makes you feel good, but it may also improve the health of your heart and blood vessels. Although research in this area is still in its early stages, one possible explanation is the role of oxytocin. This hormone is secreted in higher levels when we nurse a baby or help others, and is associated with a reduction in stress hormone levels and a relaxation of our blood vessels.
Dr. Geyer is a physician, wife and mother of twin boys. As the Medical Director in Lenox, she continues to advance the tradition of excellence upheld in medicine, wellness and prevention. Her specialties include women's health, wellness, and integrative and preventive approaches.