Eat well. Exercise. Get enough omega-3s. Chances are, you’ve heard tips on making heart-healthy choices before. But how do your good decisions affect heart function? Read on to discover how common advice has an extraordinary impact on heart health.
I’m Dr. Louis Ignarro, a research pharmacologist and Nobel Laureate* in medicine for my research into Nitric Oxide, an important molecule Susan Bowerman described in detail in a recent article about heart health. I’ve spent the last decade focusing on educating others about the impact of nutrition and lifestyle on the heart, and you know what I’ve found? Many people don’t understand how their good decisions affect heart health and overall bodily wellness. And for good decisions to have staying power, it’s important to understand the impact they’re having.
Related Article: Exercise for Heart Health
When you lose weight, you can see the difference. But the results of a healthier heart are more difficult to measure. Let’s take a look at five healthy choices and how they impact your heart.
We all know activities like running, cycling, and swimming are good for you, but why are they heart-healthy choices? Along with improving overall bodily health, exercise helps blood vessels relax and widen, or dilate. Relaxed blood vessels allow blood to flow efficiently and nourish the heart, which it stimulates Nitric Oxide (NO) production in the body. Since Nitric Oxide controls, regulates, and protects the cardiovascular system, the result is clear: more exercise equals more Nitric Oxide, which results in a healthier heart.
A healthy diet is as good for your heart as it is for your taste buds. Fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to maintain overall health. Foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and tuna), flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans are jam-packed with omega-3 fatty acids, and consumption of EPA (eicosapantaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. Not only is fish a great substitute for foods like beef, which is high in saturated fats, but the omega-3s help to support a healthy cardiovascular system by maintaining cholesterol and triglyceride levels already within the normal range.
If you think activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing aren’t for you, think again. Doing stress-relieving activities can do more for your body than you might think. A recent study found that chronic stress is linked to coronary heart disease and that stress management is an important part of heart health.
While there are a lot of theories on how lowering stress can help keep the heart healthy, many researchers believe that increased stress levels can worsen other states in the body. For example, if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, stress can cause these levels to rise even further. Stress may also impact the way blood clots, which may increase the risk of a heart attack. People with lower stress levels may be more likely to exercise and eat well, both of which are important for a healthy heart. So, lowering stress not only helps you feel better, it also keeps your body balanced and supports healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Did you know that even moderate weight loss can have a huge impact on the health of your heart? A healthy weight lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes—not to mention positively impacts overall physical health. But how does it do this?
While there are lots of benefits of weight loss, it especially impacts blood circulation. One study found that when body weight—especially belly fat—is within healthy range, arteries are better able to expand, which results in better blood flow. And since optimal blood flow is one of the keys to a healthy cardiovascular system, weight loss (or maintenance, if you’re at a healthy weight), can be one of the most important steps toward supporting a healthy heart.
Many people are taking steps to support the endothelium but don’t even realize it. In fact, you may have never even heard of this important organ before. Our bodies contain 6 trillion endothelial cells, which line 60,000 miles of blood vessels in a single layer; together, those 6 trillion cells make up an organ known as the endothelium.
As I found in my research, Nitric Oxide is one of the most important molecules in the cardiovascular system. Increased Nitric Oxide results in increased blood flow to the organs, which supports healthy blood pressure and a healthy cardiovascular system. But for all this to happen, the “production house” of Nitric Oxide – the endothelium – needs to be supported.
Doing the things we’ve already discussed – exercising, eating a healthy diet, lowering stress, and losing weight – all contribute to endothelial health. Supplementing with targeted nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, CoQ10, krill, garlic, and green tea also help keep your endothelium healthy by providing the nutrients it needs to function at its best. And a healthy endothelium results in healthy Nitric Oxide levels, which impacts blood flow and blood pressure – not to mention the functioning of the entire body.
You can’t always see the results of your hard work, but now you know the impact your heart-smart decisions are having on your cardiovascular system. So, keep making healthy choices, and remember that each good decision you make does take you one step closer to a healthier heart.
Written by Louis Ignarro, Ph.D. Dr. Ignarro is a member of both the Editorial and Nutrition Advisory Boards of the Herbalife Nutrition Institute and receives compensation for his endorsement of Herbalife® products. *The Nobel Foundation has no affiliation with Herbalife and does not review, approve or endorse Herbalife products. Herbalife markets an omega-3 supplement: Herbalifeline.