Manhattan Cardiology’s cardiologist, Ami Beniaminovitz, MD, speaks to Forbes about Seven Simple Ways To Boost Your Heart Health.

What everyday habits would you suggest to our readers for better cardiovascular health?

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Daily exercise, especially complex aerobic activity like running, dancing or swimming, and being physically active is essential to optimal cardiovascular health. At least 30 minutes of some kind of daily activity greatly improves blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and reduces stress. I would suggest a daily morning workout routine before work for 30-40 minutes.”

Healthy eating. Eating mostly plant-based foods that are not processed are a key component of better cardiovascular health. I would suggest trying a diet plan, like ketotarian, Whole30, Mediterranean, or Paleo, and following it daily. I would also suggest having three or four meals planned out weekly, rotate them on a schedule, to help you adhere to healthy eating. Sometimes just being mindful of your eating can help you make better food choices, so keeping a food log is a good habit. I also find that fasting daily, a liquid fast from 14-20 hours, is a great way to get healthy by losing weight and forcing your body to use stored fat.

Manage stress. It is not ideal nor possible to have no stress in your life.

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Excessive stress can lead to increase heart rates, blood pressure, inflammation and abnormal heart rhythms that lead to suboptimal cardiovascular health.”

Daily exercise is a great way to help manage stress as is a mindfulness practice, like cognitive behavioral therapy and breathing techniques. If you are fortunate enough to live by some green spaces, taking a walk in nature can often help manage stress.

Stop drinking and smoking. Alcohol is a direct cardiotoxin and is bad for your heart. It can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, weakening of the heart and can increase inflammation. It does not matter in what form the alcohol comes in as the end result is damage to the heart and to the vascular system. Smoking causes inflammation and damage to all vascular beds and is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Studies after studies have shown that smoking cessation is one of the most important things you can do to ensure better cardiovascular health.”

How do our sleeping habits affect our cardiovascular health?

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Poor sleep leads to the upregulation of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones lead to increased production of glucose, which can lead to diabetes and obesity. Stress hormones also increase baseline heart rate and blood pressure causing the heart to work harder.”

Poor sleep also changes our food choices making us crave more carbohydrate-rich foods, like refined processed carbohydrates. Poor food choices lead to obesity and diabetes that significantly and adversely affect our cardiovascular health.

 

Why are saturated fats, trans fats and high-sodium foods bad for our ticker?

Saturated Fats

From a chemical standpoint, saturated fats are simply fat molecules that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature. Saturated fats occur naturally in many foods. The majority come mainly from animal sources, including meat and dairy products.

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Eating foods that contain saturated fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.”

Trans Fats

There are two broad types of trans fats found in foods: naturally-occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats are produced in the gut of some animals and foods made from these animals (e.g., milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats. Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

High-Sodium Foods

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount (volume) of blood inside them. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. It’s like turning up the water supply to a garden hose — the pressure in the hose increases as more water is blasted through it. Over time, high blood pressure may overstretch or injure the blood vessel walls and speed the build-up of gunky plaque that can block blood flow.”

The added pressure tires out the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood through the body. High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because its symptoms are not always obvious. It’s one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide.

What heart-healthy foods should we eat more often?

Leafy Green Vegetables

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels.”

Nuts and Seeds

Walnuts, Almonds and seeds are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper and manganese, are high in fiber and monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Seeds may improve several heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. Almonds have been linked to reductions in cholesterol and belly fat. Walnuts can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Whole Grains

Common types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa. Eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, as well as a lower risk in heart disease.

Berries

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health. Eating berries is associated with reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, body mass index and certain markers of inflammation.”

Avocados

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats and potassium. They may help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of metabolic syndrome.”

Fatty Fish and Fish Oil

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits.

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.”

Beans

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Beans are high in resistant starch and have been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation.”

Dark Chocolate

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants like flavonoids. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.”

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.

Garlic

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Garlic and its components have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. They may also help inhibit blood clot formation.”

Olive Oil

Olive oil is high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It has been associated with lower blood pressure and lower risk of heart disease.

Edamame

Edamame contains soy isoflavones, which have been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels. Edamame also contains fiber and antioxidants, which can also benefit heart health.

Green Tea

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Green tea is high in polyphenols and catechins. It has been associated with lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.”

How does being physically active benefit our heart health? Why is exercise so good for your health?

Exercise burns calories, which can help you maintain or reach a healthy weight. Regular exercise also improves factors linked to cardiovascular health, resulting in lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels, and better blood sugar regulation.

Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz was quoted saying:

“Exercise also promotes positive physiological changes, such as encouraging the heart’s arteries to dilate more readily. It also helps your sympathetic nervous system (which controls your heart rate and blood pressure) to be less reactive.”

Even a single bout of exercise may protect your heart right away through a process known as ischemic preconditioning. The idea is that when you have a coronary blockage and you exercise, the area of heart beyond the blockage is starved for blood supply. That sets up a number of molecular and metabolic pathways that help the heart adapt to that inadequate blood flow.


View the original piece placement on Forbes.

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