Your one-a-day strategy for a stronger, healthier heart
At the risk of sounding negative, February is my least favorite month—because it happens to sit square in the middle of my least favorite time of the year. The truth is, I absolutely despise the frigid weather and dark, dreary days of late winter.
That’s why I hold on tight to the good things that February has to offer—like the fact that it’s Black History Month and American Heart Month.
Now, it’s true that I usually disagree with anything the American Heart Association (AHA) has to say. But awareness is awareness—and heart disease is one issue that obviously still needs more of it.
I say that for two reasons: The first is that it’s still the leading cause of death in the United States to this day. This, despite the fact that it’s almost entirely preventable—which is the main reason I’ve decided to tackle the subject of heart disease today.
I’m not saying that genetics don’t play a role. Of course they do. But the fact is—just like obesity, diabetes, or cancer—your lifestyle choices can make or break you. And it just so happens that there’s a lot you can do to keep your heart in tip-top condition. (And that certainly doesn’t include popping statin pills every day.)
So this month, I’m serving up a one-a-day heart health plan. This strategy will take you through each day of February and welcome you into spring with a stronger, healthier heart—regardlessof where you were when you started. All you have to do is make an effort to complete one recommendation a day, or at least take the first necessary step to check it off the list.
1. Exercise more
This is probably the best thing you can do for your heart, so let’s start here: Even a brisk, 30-minute daily walk can make a big difference. But if you’re already doing this—and you should be—then I challenge you to up the ante. And here’s why…
Research shows that people who exercise the most are also the most likely to survive a heart attack. According to one recent study, people who said they had moderate activity levels were 32 percent less likely to die from a heart attack than those who were sedentary. And those in the high activity category were 47 percent more likely to survive a heart attack.1
In other words, staying active could quite literally save your life. So there’s no reason to shy away from high-intensity training, even—and especially—when you have heart disease.
2. Know your heart health numbers
And I mean all of them. So today, schedule a checkup with your doctor and be sure to ask for a comprehensive blood test that, at minimum, includes:
Cardiac C-reactive protein (CRP).The body produces CRP in response to inflammation and is a reliable predictor of cardiovascular risk. In fact, in the Harvard Women’s Health Study, women with the highest CRP levels were more than four times as likely to die from coronary disease, or to suffer a non-fatal heart attack or stroke, compared to those with lower levels.
I recommend getting your CRP tested twice per year. Generally speaking, scores are categorized as follows:
• Less than 1.0 = Low risk
• 1.0 to 2.9 = Intermediate risk
• Greater than 3.0 = High risk
Homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid that in high amounts, can injure the endothelium, or lining of your arteries. It also contributes to the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, and can increase the risk of clotting in your blood vessels.
I like to see my patients’ homocysteine levels at 8 or below. And I recommend having it tested every three months if your first test shows elevated levels. (Or twice per year if they’re normal.)
Fibrinogen. Fibrinogen is a sticky protein that promotes blood clots and affects blood “thickness.” It can help predict numerous heart risks, including stroke risk and heart attack.
I like to see this number below 300. Get your fibrinogen tested every three months if your first test shows elevated levels. (Or twice per year if they’re normal.)
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). ESR is an indicator of inflammation that—like CRP—is linked to risk of certain cancers as well as coronary heart disease. The normal range is 0-29 mm/hr for women and 0-22 mm/hr for men.
HbA1c. Diabetes and heart disease go hand in hand. And this test tells you how well-controlled your blood sugar has been for the past six weeks.
In general, you want to aim for an HbA1c below 5. But if you already have diabetes, trying to force it down too low may actually be a huge mistake. Research shows that diabetics with HbA1c levels under 7 have the highest death risk. So if you have diabetes, aim to keep yours as close to 7 as possible instead.
Comprehensive Lipid Panel. And by comprehensive, I mean one that tests for more than just total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL. I covered all the elements of a healthy lipid profile by the numbers, back in the November 2014 issue of Logical Health Alternatives. If you missed it, definitely visit the archives to catch up—and take notes for your next doctor’s appointment.
Of course, there are more tests that you can get to assess the state of your cardiovascular health. But if you receive anything less than this, you’re not getting the vital information you need.
3. Kick sugar to the curb
Forget salt and saturated fat. Hands down, the best thing you can do to decrease your risk for heart disease (not to mention diabetes and cancer) is to eliminate sugar from your diet. It’s the most powerful dietary change you can make—period.
4. Cut out white foods, too
Giving added sugar the boot is imperative.
But it’s important to remember that simple carbs in any form have the same effect on your cardiovascular system. It all turns to sugar in your body—which leads to inflammation, weight gain, and heart disease.
So as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to clear all white foods—be it bread, pasta, rice, or potatoes—out of your kitchen. Cauliflower is the one and only exception.
5. Say no to sweetened drinks of any kind
Sugary drinks are heart-stoppers. That should go without saying by now. Research shows that those who consume the highest number of sugary drinks—either sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices—face as much as double the risk of heart disease death.
But a lot of people mistakenly believe they’re doing their body a favor by switching to diet soda instead. And let me tell you… that’s a huge mistake.
In fact, one review of two dozen cohort studies showed that there’s an equally deadly link between artificially sweetened drinks and a long list of diseases. Among them: metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. And in some cases, the risk from diet soda alone was nearly doubled.
The bottom line: The only beverage you should be drinking is water. Go ahead and jazz it up with cucumbers, mint, or lemon if you wish. And if you get bored, brew some tea or coffee. (Yes, even coffee is heart healthy in moderation.)
6. Get a good night’s sleep, every night
If you don’t get enough sleep, you drastically raise your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. All of these are fatal risks to your heart—and the impact is measurable. Even if you’re otherwise in perfect health.
Case in point: One recent study linked shorter sleep duration to a significant increase in plaque buildup in the carotid arteries—the two arteries in the neck that supply blood and oxygen to the brain.4
The women in the study ranged from 40 to 60 years of age. They didn’t smoke, didn’t work the night shift (a known sleep disruptor), and had no history of clinical cardiovascular disease (a very important twist to this study).
In other words, these weren’t women you’d expect to have atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries from plaque buildup). That’s how powerfully dangerous poor sleep can be.
The bottom line? Make sure you’re getting your six to eight hours each night, every night.
7. Check your blood pressure
As you know, high blood pressure is a silent disease that can lead to heart attacks and death. (Revisit the November 2016 issue of Logical Health Alternatives for my latest recommendations on reversing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.)
But the bigger issue is that a good half of people with high blood pressure aren’t even aware that they’re in the danger zone. So how can you fix a problem you don’t even realize you have?
Knowledge is power—and it could save your life. So get your blood pressure checked regularly, even if it’s at your local drug store.
8. Track your triglyceride levels
LDL cholesterol has been proven to be a useless prognostic indicator when it comes to heart disease. Your triglyceride levels, on the other hand, are vital to know—and, really, the most important element of your lipid profile. So I felt they deserved their own mention on this list.
Triglycerides are a type of fat in your bloodstream that, in excess, serves as a red flag for both stowaway sugar—and eventually, full-blown fatty liver disease. But it also makes your blood thicker, and sets your cardiovascular system up for disaster.
Another point? Statin drugs do nothing to lower them. But you know what does? Eliminating sugar and simple carbs from your diet.
9. Limit your cocktail consumption
The debate rages on about how much alcohol is ideal—or if consuming any at all is “too much.” But here’s what we do know: People who drink moderately are at the lowest risk of all-cause mortality. Personally, I suggest limiting consumption to two drinks per day for men, and one for women.
And, despite how much press it’s gotten for its supposed heart-health benefits, those drinks don’t have to be glasses of red wine. In fact, with the amount of sugar in wine, they really shouldn’t be. The good news is that you can still get a heart healthy boost from clear alcohols (which is what I recommend drinking).
10. Identify daily stressors
Once again, dealing with the consequences of chronic stress is a bigger topic than I have time to detail today. (I urge you revisit the April 2016 issue for an in-depth discussion.) For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with the most important step today—and that’s identifying your daily stressors.
Figure out the areas of your life that are generating the most stress, and ask yourself what you can do about it. Make a list, make a plan, and take it seriously. Because external stress triggers oxidative stress within your body. And that leads directly to heart disease.
11. Try meditation
This is a great, drug-free way to de-stress. And it’s not complicated, either. Simply take 20 minutes, preferably twice per day and go to a quiet, dark place. Then breathe slowly, and focus on clearing your mind.
If this sounds like a time-wasting luxury—think again. A number of studies have examined the link between meditation and stress response, blood pressure, insulin resistance, endothelial function, heart attack risk, and heart disease prevention—often delivering significant improvements in all of these parameters.5
Meditation is free, and easy to incorporate into your daily routine. You have nothing to lose by embracing this practice—and years of longevity to gain.
12. Take a yoga class
Yoga is a great way to stretch and tone your body, especially if higher impact exercises present a challenge. It also delivers heart health benefits all on its own.
A recent randomized clinical trial found that participants who took yoga 2-3 times per week experienced significant cuts to their blood pressure in just 12 weeks.
13. Take a spin class
Get this: A study of more than 45,000 Danish adults showed that people who bike regularly suffer as many as 18 percent fewer heart attacks than those who don’t cycle at all.6
Of course, two wheels won’t get you very far when everything is covered in a sheet of ice.
The good news is that you don’t have to sideline cycling until the spring. Because indoor spinning offers a perfect way around that obstacle. Plus, classes can be found at just about any gym. (I love my Soul Cycle classes!) And if spinning seems daunting, don’t worry—you can participate at your own pace.
14. Snuggle up with your Valentine
The 14th is Valentine’s Day. So if you have a significant other, make sure you set aside some time with them tonight. Because it just so happens that the benefits to your heart are actually quite literal. Recent research shows that when people are with their spouses or partners, their blood pressure drops slightly, but significantly.
So this year, skip the candy and go in for the snuggles. You and your sweetheart will both be healthier for it.
15. Pop a Co-Q10
This is easily one of the most important heart health supplements in your medicine cabinet—especially if you’re taking a statin.
CoQ10 supplies your body with energy at the cellular level. And it happens to be at its most abundant in the heart muscle. Needless to say, you don’t want to skimp here. I recommend 300 mg daily.
16. Take your fish oil
The studies are all over the place on this supplement. But no one can deny that omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart health—and your health in general—given their potent anti-inflammatory properties. And taking a quality fish oil supplement that contains 3,000 mg of daily DHA/EPA combined is the simplest way to get a hearty dose of omega-3s.
17. Control inflammation with curcumin
Inflammation is the key driver of cardiovascular disease. Fish oil might be the most essential supplement in the fight against it—but it’s not your only choice.
A recent Taiwanese study showed that curcumin (the active compound in the spice turmeric) raised subjects HDL (good) cholesterol by two points and lowered their LDL (bad) cholesterol by a whopping 14 points—in just 12 weeks.
But more importantly, subjects taking curcumin also experienced a whopping 65 point drop in triglycerides. And as I mentioned earlier, triglycerides are far more important than cholesterol.
I recommend taking 500 mg of a bioavailable form of curcumin daily. For my favorite brands, simply search “curcumin” in the top right search bar via my website. Also, aim to cook regularly with turmeric.
18. Quit smoking
This is probably the number one thing you can do for your heart—and your health in general.
But one word of caution: Think twice about replacing the habit with a vape pen. The jury is still out about the safety of e-cigarettes, but research has already linked them to fatty liver disease and other hazards.
19. Increase the heart-healthy oils in your diet
Throw away the over-processed, pesticide-laden vegetable oils (like canola oil, grapeseed oil, or soybean oil) that will land your heart in trouble.
The only oils in your kitchen should be rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Macadamia nut oil and avocado oil have a high smoke point and are perfect for cooking. And extra virgin olive oil is perfect for cold uses, in salad dressings or as a finishing oil.
20. Cook an extra meal at home
Preparing your own meals at home guarantees that you know exactly what’s going into your food. You can feel good knowing that you’re eating clean and getting the most nutrition out of your food. I challenge you to enjoy an extra meal at home each week for the rest of the year.
21. Keep your blood sugar in check
As I said above, diabetes and heart disease go hand in hand. In fact, nearly 70 percent of diabetics will die with some form of heart disease. And nearly 20 percent will die of stroke. So needless to say, keeping your blood sugar in check is critical.
The good news is, every recommendation I’ve made thus far ought to help with that. But if you need some extra help, I’ve authored an online learning protocol that outlines the proper steps to take to prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Simply click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and refer to code EOV3V202 to learn more about my Metabolic Repair Protocol or enroll today.
22. Park your car as far away from your destination as possible
Even if you go to the gym every single day, you should still take every opportunity you can to move more. And parking further away is one of the simplest ways to do that. I promise the heart benefits are well worth the extra effort.
23. Take the stairs instead of the elevator
Once again, every little bit helps. In fact, one recent study of postmenopausal women found that subjects who climbed stairs regularly reaped significant benefits in arterial stiffness, blood pressure, and leg strength— in just 12 weeks’ time.7
Yes, I realize that, technically, you’re already doing this. But what I’m talking about is mindful breathing for meditation and relaxation. This kind of deep breathing can slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. And it’s a powerful technique to lean on when stress starts overwhelming you.
There are a number of ways to breathe away stress. But one of the easiest is plain old belly breathing. Lie down or sit quietly, place a hand on your belly, and inhale slowly through your nose for about 10 seconds. (You’ll feel your abdomen rising.) Then, exhale slowly through your mouth for about ten more seconds. And repeat.
Aim to make this a part of your daily routine—whether it’s as soon as you wake up, during a midday break, or right before bed.
25. Get a carotid artery test done
This is a simple ultrasound scan of your carotid arteries, the large vessels leading to your brain that checks for blockages. Your doctor can tell you how frequently you should receive this imaging.
26. If you’re at risk, get a CAC
If you have high cholesterol and your doctor is forcing statin drugs on you, the coronary artery calcification (CAC) test is a great test to ask for. It’s inexpensive and tells you whether there’s any plaque in the inner lining of the arteries around your heart.
The CAC test is so accurate for predicting coronary heart disease that researchers have concluded that people with a CAC score of zero have at least a 15-year “warranty” against having a heart attack. And that’s a whole lot more than you’ll get out of a cholesterol test.
27. Skip the between-meal snacks
Oftentimes, we eat snacks even when we’re not hungry. And those calories sure do add up! Believe it or not, Americans on average eat an extra 600 calories per day in snacks alone.
So I challenge you to practice mindful eating. In fact, try not snacking today at all—whether it’s at home or at work. Plus, limiting yourself to three square meals has a number of metabolic advantages.
28. Choose your favorite strategy… and repeat it over and over again.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: The key to success in any aspect of your health is consistency. I broke down this process into single steps and small changes to make it easy for anyone to do. Your job is to actually do it—not just in February, but all year long.
So make 2019 the year you work toward a healthier heart and longer life. And of course, I’d love to hear how this one-a-day heart health plan has worked for you. Feel free to drop me a line on the Logical Health Alternatives Facebook page!
The Ultimate Heart Protection
I could only include so many recommendations in this issue for improving your heart health and preventing cardiovascular disease…
Which is why I’d like to make you aware of my newest online learning tool, the Ultimate Heart-Protection Protocol. If you’re serious about improving your cardiovascular health, this is your go-to, one-stop source for all the right supplements, exercises, foods, lifestyle interventions, and medical recommendations for a stronger heart and longer life.
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1. European Society of Cardiology. “Exercise associated with improved heart attack survival: Chances of survival increased as amount of exercise rose.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 April 2017.
2. Moholdt T, et al. J Sci Med Sport. 2014 Sep;17(5):506-10.
3. Umpleby AM, et al. Clin Sci (Lond). 2017 Oct 17;131(21):2561-2573.
4. North American Menopause Society (NAMS) 2016 Annual Meeting: Abstract S-16. Presented October 7, 2016.
5. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017 Oct; 6(10): e002218.
6. Blond K, et al. Circulation. 2016 Nov 1;134(18):1409-1411.
7. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). “Climb stairs to lower blood pressure and strengthen leg muscles: New study demonstrates effectiveness of stair climbing in helping prevent and treat menopause and age-related vascular complications and muscle weakness.” ScienceDaily, 14 February 2018. remove();