5 New Rules for a Healthy Heart
Estimate your risk
In the past century, researchers have begun trying to predict heart-disease risk by manipulating key numbers. The Framingham Heart Model – an algorithm that factors in your age, blood pressure, cholesterol and other figures – remains a widely used prediction tool. “If you know your basic numbers, you can run an estimate yourself online and bring a printout to your doctor,” says Dr Michael Steinman. “It’s important to know at least your estimated risk.”
New rule: broaden the equation. Current research suggests that the Framingham Heart Model has some limitations: it doesn’t consider family history, lifestyle and body mass index. And according to a recent study published in BMC Medicine, roughly a third of heart trouble occurs in people labelled as low risk by common prediction models.
Train with intervals
Swimming, running, biking: they’re all terrific for your heart. And inserting periods of ultra-heavy heart pumping into your cardio routine (interval training, during which you reach 90+% of your maximum heart rate) further boosts your heart’s efficiency over time. “You’re pushing the mitochondria in your cells to perform and adapt at a higher level,” says Dr Conrad Earnest, director of exercise biology at Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, Louisiana.
New rule: throw your weights around too. You can snare additional heart benefits by
incorporating resistance training into your routine,
Cut cholesterol with fibre
Oatmeal, barley and psyllium are rich sources of soluble fibre, which can help reduce your cholesterol. Barley and oatmeal contain beta-glucans, soluble fibres that help lower your LDL cholesterol by preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Psyllium, found in cereals and fibre supplements, may slash your LDL by triggering an increase in your body’s excretion of bile acid, the digestive fluid that cholesterol is converted into.
New rule: add tomatoes. Okay, maybe not to your oatmeal. But pour yourself a daily glass of tomato juice; it’s rich in lycopene, a nutrient that may cut your body’s production of LDL cholesterol.
Watch your stress
That 60-hour-a-week job could send you to the hospital. In a study in the journal Stress, researchers measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in hair samples from 56 men who’d been hospitalised for heart attacks and from 56 men hospitalised for other reasons. For three months before the test, the heart-attack victims had cortisol levels that were a third higher than the control group’s. “It’s a high-stress world,” says Dr John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard medical school. “People are willing to take on more than ever.”
New rule: banish the blues as well. Stress can kill, but so can depression. After studying twins with genetic predispositions for depression and heart disease, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis concluded that depression – past or present – raises a man’s risk of heart disease more than genetic or environmental factors do.
Go for a blood test
Prescription statins are the gold standard for reducing cholesterol. For people at risk of heart disease, statins can lower the chance of having a heart attack by as much as 30%, according to the British Medical Journal. The trick is determining when you need to start popping the pills. “For people with borderline cholesterol, the situation is murky,” says Dr Michael Blaha. Many doctors use a blood test that measures C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker, to help make the final call. Your body makes more CRP when there’s inflammation, which can be caused by the plaque build-up in your arteries. High cholesterol could be the culprit.
New rule: also consider a CT scan. The problem with the CRP test: cholesterol may not be the only cause of inflammation, or even its main cause. Arthritis or a sinus infection, for example, can also inflame your insides,