At Valentine's Day we have hearts on our minds, so why not mind our hearts? The library holds a selection of books for heart health. I pulled three books from my local library to help add heart health to my observation of Valentine's Day.
"Heart 411" is a thick compendium by cardiologists Marc Gillinov and Steven Nissen. The chapters are neatly written with sound, easy-to-read advice at the beginning, backed up by scientific details that can be skimmed until you want to understand the full implications. "Mind Your Heart" by Aggie Casey and Herbert Benson is a thoughtful approach to heart health written by medical professionals. Neither Valentine's Day nor a heart health discussion would be complete without food, so I also chose the "All Heart Family Cookbook" from WomenHeart.
Let's use these books to invigorate a five part heart-to-heart about healthy hearts.
Get to the heart of your treatable risk factors. Many risk factors for heart disease can be improved with medicine or lifestyle changes according to "Mind Your Heart":
"As frightening as it may be to read about, the development of heart disease is predictable -- and largely preventable. The first step is to identify the factors that put you at risk for heart disease and then take steps to reduce your risk."
"Heart 411" recommends a blood pressure check every couple of years and blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes somewhat less often. Tobacco users and people who are obese should be checked more often while taking other steps to improve their health. Do you know about the more recently discovered risk factors for heart problems? These include sleep apnea and gum disease. I'm making an appointment with my doctor this month and my dentist next month to make sure I understand my risk factors.
Eat to your heart's content. The "All Heart Family Cookbook" identifies 40 foods that are good for your heart and offers recipes using those ingredients. It's fun to approach a healthy diet with a list of good foods to eat rather than the common method of banishing unhealthy foods. I'm planning a romantic Valentine's Day dinner that begins with a dark leafy green salad and ends with a square of dark chocolate.
Move to the beat of your heart. "Heart 411" recommends exercise "just about every day" to build the heart muscle, using a mix of aerobic and resistance training with appropriate stretches.
The mind/body approach in "Mind Your Heart" gives an added dimension to exercise:
"...exercise becomes a means of self-observation, a way to increase self-awareness, rather than just an outcome-oriented activity with a physical focus. When you begin to view exercise as a way of life and not as an obligation, then you are truly on the path to improving your physical and spiritual health."
Warm your heartfelt emotions. I was surprised to learn that more recent research has refined the thinking about type A personalities. According to "Mind Your Heart":
"It now appears that the most toxic elements of type A behavior are subcomponents of the personality profile, such as anger, hostility and cynical thinking."
Apparently we can be driven, competitive and experience a sense of urgency without increasing our health risks. We just need to be nice about it if we want to protect our hearts.
Newer research points to the dangers of what "Heart 411" calls a type D personality featuring distress and depression along with related emotions. "Heart 411" recommends choosing from a variety of options for managing stress and boosting moods, everything from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to prayer to laughter.
"Mind Your Heart" advises consciously seeking a relaxation response as a balance to those times when we have a fight-or-flight response. The book describes a number of techniques for eliciting the relaxation response with activities like diaphragmatic breathing, visualization exercises, or yoga.
Make a whole-hearted effort to sustain the change. "Mind Your Heart" ends with a chapter called "Making It Work" and a reminder:
"Change, after all, is a journey -- and it is like any journey, filled with unexpected twists and turns, challenges that might set you back a few steps, moments of frustration as well as elation. It is the rare person who is able to embrace change without a few setbacks. Most of us take a few steps forward, then a few steps back."
This chapter includes tips for preventing a relapse to the old lifestyle with encouragement to identify our own positive strategies.
Let's celebrate Valentine's Day as an enjoyable activity that lifts emotions, incorporating a mindful or companionable walk and a heart-healthy meal. The holiday devoted to hearts is a good day to determine if your heart is in the right place for good health.
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Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber and contains beta-glucans, which help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. One half-cup serving provides about 4.5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been associated with a reduction in heart disease risk. Salmon is also a natural source of healthy protein and vitamin D. One three-ounce serving -- the size of a deck of cards -- contains 17 grams of protein. The American Heart Association recommends including at least two servings of fish per week (particularly fatty fish).
Broccoli is chock-full of the antioxidant vitamins A and C. It is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, which also includes Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, and collards. Members of the Brassica family are rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties.
Peanuts are rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fat and contain protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. Regular consumption of peanuts has been associated with lower risk for coronary heart disease in people who eat them instead of other high-fat foods. Peanut consumption has been shown to improve lipid profiles in those with high cholesterol.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E.
Pistachios contain healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They are also rich in plant stanols; research found that substituting these jade gems for fatty meats can actually lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Cantaloupe, a member of the melon family is rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a plant-based vitamin A precursor. It is also rich in the mineral potassium, which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. A one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories, which can certainly help with weight control.
Red wine, in moderation, is associated with heart health and contains a high levels of antioxidants. Polyphenols, including resveratrol, are associated with an increase in good cholesterol, a reduction in bad cholesterol, and a decrease in inflammation.
Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated, heart-healthy fat. Diets rich in olive oil, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been associated with heart health. Olive oil is also rich in antioxidants, like polyphenols, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, which can help protect blood vessels and other components of the heart.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant associated with cardiovascular health. There are many different varieties of tomatoes, and they all contain important antioxidants, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Tomatoes are also low in calories -- one medium tomato has about 20 calories.
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