10 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Keeping Your Heart Healthy

Some heart tricks are less well known. This is your 10 step guide to making your heart healthy and happy this Heart Awareness Month.

Compiled by Kelleigh Korevaar |

For many years in South Africa, September has been known as Heart Awareness Month. This month is all about raising awareness about heart disease, the lifestyle disease that is a serious issue in SA. There are some more obvious ways of protecting your heart, like eating less salt and exercising. But some heart tricks are less well-known. This is your 10 step guide to making your heart healthy and happy.

Double Whammy

Colon cancer and heart disease may strike simultaneously, according to new research from Johns Hopkins University. People with colon polyps were 2.7 times as likely as those with clean colons to also have highly obstructed arteries. That’s because cardiac risk factors (inflammation, high blood sugar, high cholesterol) also endanger your basement plumbing.

If you’re diagnosed with heart disease, make colorectal cancer screening a priority. Conversely, if your colonoscopy reveals polyps, get screened for cardiovascular risk factors, says study author Dr. Eliseo Guallar.

Related: 3 Ways To Reduce Your Risk Of Heart Disease

Treat Your Heart

Having a sweet tooth can wreak havoc on your health. When cravings hit, he breaks off a few squares of dark chocolate, which is packed with natural flavonoids. In a study by the University of California San Francisco, a daily dose of dark chocolate was shown to improve blood vessel function, delivering more oxygen to your muscles during your workouts for better performance and quicker recovery.

Opt for 70% cocoa or more. As well as boosting blood flow, cocoa contains epicatechin, which is shown to improve muscle endurance.

Rethink Daily Aspirin

To prevent heart attack and stroke, doctors often suggest taking a daily low-dose aspirin (81 milligrams). But not everyone may benefit, according to a 2017 study in the journal Clinical Cardiology. After three years of tracking people 45 and older with cardiovascular disease, researchers found that people who’d never had a heart attack received no benefit from daily aspirin. Regular aspirin use can raise your risk of stomach, intestine, and brain bleeding. If you’re currently popping one, ask your doctor if it’s a good idea to continue, says study co-author Dr. Anthony Bavry.

Related: 5 Times You Should Reach For An Aspirin

Happy Marriage, Happy Heart

Researchers followed married British men for 19 years to see how their relationship ups and downs affected their risk factors for heart disease. “Improving” marriages were linked to lower LDL cholesterol and weight loss, while “deteriorating” ones were linked to higher diastolic blood pressure. To keep yours on the upswing, see the next tip.

Get In The Om Zone

Practising yoga can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease in as little as two weeks, according to recent research in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volunteers who attended 10 two hour yoga classes (consisting of a warm-up, 20 different poses, breathing exercises, meditation, and chanting) over a two-week period saw their 10-year risk of developing heart disease drop by 11%. The study participants also experienced a decrease in blood pressure and total cholesterol.

Related: 4 Ways Yoga Can Improve Chronic Health Conditions

Gluten-Free Gains

With the global increase in gluten-free products, you’d think its benefits would have solid backing. Not so. Harvard University looked at 26 years of data and found that shunning gluten did not cut the chance of heart disease, while restricting wholegrain consumption could actually put you at higher risk. If you want to rise to the top, you need to use your real loaf.

Fight For Fibre

Men who consumed a fibre-rich diet reported feeling healthier than those who didn’t, a 2017 study in Food & Nutrition Research showed. Fibre may aid immunity, reducing your risk of inflammatory diseases. But is feeling healthier the same as being healthier? Your perception of your health can be a powerful wellness influence, the researchers say. Stock up on whole grains and produce (and don’t forget nuts!) to steer clear of the doctor’s office.

Related: 4 Simple Heart-Healthy, Fibre-Rich Breakfast Bowls

Heart Healthy Is Brain Healthy

A new study that tracked 518 people over three decades found that those with better initial cardiovascular health at 18 to 30 years old had a greater percentage of whole brain volume 25 years later. “The top thing is keeping good blood flow to the brain,” Dr. James Brewer, of CorTechs says. “If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, treat it. Exercise and don’t smoke. Not all smokers will get cancer, but 100% of smokers will get bad blood vessels.”

Prevent Heart Disease, Eat Low-Fat

In the 1940s, heart disease was the top killer in the United States. To identify the causes, many studies were launched, including the landmark Framingham Heart Study and the Seven Countries Study. The latter examined risk factors across cultures, and linked diets high in saturated fat to heart disease. The American Heart Association endorsed the findings and sounded the alarm on saturated fat. Companies responded with lowfat processed foods. Belief in the heart-healthy benefits of a low-fat diet still persists today, even though heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the nation.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to replicate the Seven Countries finding, without success. In fact, the study’s methodology has come into question. In November, new research in The Lancet spanning 18 countries across five continents concluded that “total fats and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease”.

Ironically, reaction to that original flawed science turned out to be the real killer. Since low-fat food is bland, food producers added sugar. We now know that sugar is extremely harmful to health. According to a 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine study, people who get 25% or more of their daily kilojoules from added sugar are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who get 10% or less. And that’s regardless of age, sex, physical activity, and body mass index.

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