Cardiovascular disease is a major problem in the United States. And the numbers keep getting worse. Fortunately, these six simple steps can help you lower your risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke.
No. 1: Get your blood pressure under control
High blood pressure is the No. 1 cause of heart disease. So, you should do everything you can to keep it under control. Including safe, proven drug therapy, if your doctor recommends it. In my special report called The Insider’s Secret to Conquering High Blood Pressure & Protecting Your Heart, I tell you about safe and effective generic drugs for lowering blood pressure. Subscribers to my newsletter get this report for free. If you aren’t yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started. You’ll also learn about helpful mind-body therapies to protect against this silent killer.
No. 2 Eat like the Italians and Greeks
Of course, diet plays an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease. But you have to choose the right diet. We now know that low-fat diets increase your cardiovascular disease risk.
You need a diet that includes some healthy fats. Including saturated fat. I highly recommend adopting the Mediterranean diet. It is the most effective diet for preventing cardiovascular disease.
Traditionally, the Mediterranean diet includes healthy amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and some red meat. They also use relatively large amounts of olive oil.
Why so much olive oil?
Well, olive oil contains plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids. These specifically help your heart. In fact, the EPIC-Spain study followed 40,622 patients and found a 44 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease from using olive oil in the diet. In the U.S., even the FDA agrees that just 2 teaspoons of olive oil a day can reduce your risk of heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet also gives you plenty of polyphenols. You find these powerful antioxidants in olive oil, nuts, fruits…and even red wine. And it turns out, these antioxidant protect you against cardiovascular disease too. In the EUROLIVE study, researchers recruited 200 healthy subjects from five European countries. The researchers discovered that the subjects decreased their blood lipid (fat) levels and oxidative stress markers when they increased the phenolic content in their olive oil.
Fish also plays prominently in the Mediterranean Diet. It contains lots of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. And we know these help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease as well. In fact, the American Heart Association now recommends adults get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids to prevent heart disease.
Of course, if you don’t like fish, you can always take a fish oil supplement. In fact, I recommend everyone take 1 to 2 grams of fish oil each day. You just have to be careful about choosing a high-quality manufacturer. You might have seen some recent studies on fish oil supplements crop up in the headlines recently. The mainstream media got everyone up in arms about fish oil and prostate cancer. But those flimsy associations probably resulted from using poor-quality fish oil supplements.
No. 3 Eat more fruits and veggies
This one is obvious. But always worth mentioning. Simply put, plant sterols found in vegetables and fruits help keep your heart healthy. In fact, that EPIC study I mentioned earlier also examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and the risk of dying. Like other studies before it, this EPIC study found that men and women who eat lots of fruits and vegetables reduce their all-cause mortality. And especially their cardiovascular disease mortality. In fact, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by a whopping 15 percent.
No. 4 Eat more fiber
Strive to take in more fiber through fruits and vegetables. And when you do eat carbs, make sure they are complex carbs like barley, whole oats, or sprouted wheat grain. Complex carbs contain the most beneficial forms of dietary fiber. Your body digests them slowly, unlike refined carbs. Plus, they help sweep out toxins from your intestinal tract. Just be wary of anything with “added fiber” like those awful cereal-granola bars. Instead, go for a nice slice of “Ezekiel bread” with a dab of real butter.
No. 5 Be wary of “heart-wise” supplements
Lots of researchers have studied the cardiovascular benefits of specific antioxidants and vitamins of the last 30 years. And certain chemically reactive molecules called “oxidants” may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis. But it’s a complicated business. And we do not know for sure if taking a given “antioxidant” can really wipe out these harmful “oxidants.” Besides, newer studies show that vitamins act more like hormones in the body. And they don’t really have their effects by behaving as “antioxidants” at all!
Aside from fish oil, I don’t currently recommend taking a specific “heart-wise” supplement to help your cardiovascular health. Instead, focus on improving your diet. As I mentioned earlier, eat complex foods like olive oil, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. This diet shows much stronger evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease. Remember, people eat food. Not nutrients. And everything that you take in works in concert in your body.
No. 6: Exercise in moderation…outdoors
Everyone knows that exercise is good for the heart. Just make sure not to go to extremes. In fact, extreme exercise can actually hurt your heart. As you’ll recall, a recent study found that extreme skiers ran a significantly higher risk of developing harmful heart arrhythmias later in life. In fact, they ran double the risk compared to their non-extreme-sport peers.
You also want to make sure to exercise in the great outdoors, whenever possible. We knew it all along. And a study from earlier this year found that exercising outside is better for you–far better for you–than exercising indoors.
Several factors are at play.
First, you get vitamin D when exercising outside. Second, exercising outside is generally more challenging. Your body must make constant adjustments to the terrain. So you must use different muscle groups. And lastly, it’s just plain more enjoyable. In fact, one study found that men and women who exercise outside reduce their cortisol levels more than indoors exercisers. Cortisol is the stress hormone we know plays a role in cardiovascular disease. Just plain being outside in Nature is good for the body and soul. But some people need a reason to go outside. And outdoor exercise is a good reason.
One last bit of advice…
I didn’t count this toward your six simple steps. But I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle: Consider adopting a dog. Preferably a rescue animal.
In July, the American Heart Association released a very interesting study about dog owners. It showed that dog owners actually have a much lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. And it’s not just about the added “outdoor” exercise. According to the AHA, dog ownership has many psychological and sociological benefits. Just the presence of a dog in your home appears to help lower stress and reduce your heart rate. In another study, 50 stockbrokers began taking medication to control their high blood pressure. Half of them also adopted a dog. Six months later, the dog owners were markedly calmer under stressful situations.
And, trust me, that dog will get you to exercise outside too!
1. “Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Mortality: European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 2013; 178 (4): 590
2. “Nutraceuticals for Prevention and Treatment of Coronary Heart Disease,” Curr Opin Cardiol 2013;28(4):475-482