Here Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Medical Director looks at 10 things everyone can do to improve their cardio health.
Get your heart rate up!
Like any other muscle in the body, it can be strengthened by exercise. Regular exercise also has beneficial effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose control, stress hormones, your weight, and improves your overall cardiovascular fitness. Use an activity tracker such as Fitbit to guide your progress, and provide nutritional advice.
Enjoy a cuppa
Tea is a rich source of beneficial antioxidant polyphenols that protect your heart and circulation. The results from 22 studies involving over 856,000 people show that people who drink at least 3 cups of tea a day are 27% less likely to experience a heart attack than those who do not drink tea. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25354990
Get enough magnesium
Magnesium is needed for just about every metabolic reaction in the body, and plays an important role in electrical conduction in the heart, to protect against abnormal heart rhythms, and relaxes muscles – including those in artery walls, to lower blood pressure. Magnesium is found in beans (especially soy), nuts, wholegrains, seafood, green leaves and dark chocolate. You can also absorb magnesium through your skin by adding a handful to a warm bath and relaxing before bedtime. You will sleep well and wake feeling refreshed. (eg healthspan Magnesium Flakes Bathsoak).
Ditch processed foods
Avoid eating processed, convenience foods which tend to have a high content of sugar, fat, calories and salt. Cook from scratch as much as you can, eat more plant-based foods, and serve smaller portions to help maintain a healthy weight.
Follow a low-salt, Mediterranean diet
If you have a strong family history of heart disease, don’t despair. According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, you can still overcome a bad roll of the genetic dice. Data from over 55,600 people showed that those with a high genetic risk of heart attack halved their chance of actually experiencing one if they followed a healthy diet and lifestyle compared with those who made less favourable choices. This is not too surprising, given that almost one in three heart attacks are linked with eating an unhealthy diet, and an unhealthy lifestyle accounts for many of the others.
Consider Co-enzyme Q10
Co-enzyme Q10 is needed for energy production in cells – especially heart muscle cells that are constantly contracting. When 144 people who had experienced a heart attack were given either co-enzyme Q10 (120 mg/day) or a B vitamin placebo for one year, the number of recurrent cardiac events were significantly lower in the co-enzyme Q10 group (24.6% vs. 45.0%) and the number of non-fatal heart attack recurrences was also significantly reduced (13.7% vs. 25.3%).[v] Statin drugs lower cholesterol levels and also halve circulating levels of co-enzyme Q10 within 4 weeks[vi],[vii]. Taking co-enzyme Q10 supplements helps to maintain blood levels of this important muscle nutrient without affecting the cholesterol-lowering action of the statin[viii]. Recent research links low levels of Coenzyme Q10 with low levels of heart-protective HDL-cholesterol. Found naturally in foods like offal, sardines, peanuts, sesame seeds and broccoli, it is known to help with circulatory health, but levels of this important nutrient naturally diminish with age. The more absorbable form of coenzyme Q10 is ubiquinol – found in Healthspan’s Ubiquinol Max, which also contains tocotrienols from the vitamin E family as well as vitamin B1, C, and essential DHA and EPA omega fish oils.
Healthspan Ubiquinol Max, 60 capsules £36.95.
Plump for plant sterols
Plant sterols have a similar chemical structure to animal cholesterol and reduce the absorption of dietary cholesterol. A sterol rich diet can lower levels of harmful LDL-cholesterol by up to 15%[ix] to significantly reduce the risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. The benefits are even greater for people with type 2 diabetes, in whom LDL-cholesterol levels have been lowered by over 26%[x]. Plant sterols can be used together with a statin to further reduce cholesterol levels and is more effective than doubling the statin dose[xi].
Keep up the Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 plays an important role in heart health by reducing the deposition of calcium in artery walls. Researchers looking at dietary intakes of over 16,000 women aged 49 – 70 years found that every 10mcg increase in dietary intakes of vitamin K2 reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by 9%[xii].
Don’t forget Vitamin D3
Vitamin D also helps to regulate calcium and improves blood pressure control. Research from 19 studies, involving almost 66,000 people showed that people with the lowest vitamin D levels were 52% more likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the highest blood levels, and more likely to have a fatal heart attack.[xiii]
Give glucosamine a chance
Researchers from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle looked at supplement usage in over 77,700 people aged 50 to 76 and found that those taking glucosamine at least four days a week, for at least three years, were 18% more likely to survive the following eight years than non-users. When a more sensitive analysis was performed, which removed the first two years of follow-up to help exclude pre-existing disease, the protective effect of glucosamine increased to a 20% reduced risk of death from any cause, including heart attack. This protection remained even after accounting for other confounding factors such as smoking, weight, age, education, marital status, alcohol intake, physical activity, vegetable intake, cholesterol-lowering medication and HRT. Glucosamine is known to reduce inflammation and relieve pain, which is why so many people find it helpful for their joints. It’s possible that reduced inflammation also protects against cancer, lung and heart disease.
And then there's the advice you should know anyway …
- Don’t smoke – smokers are five times more likely to have a heart attack in their 30s and 40s than non-smokers, and three times more likely to have one over all.
- Eat more fruit and veg – aim for at least 5-a-day.
- Lose excess weight especially the ‘menopot’ around your waist.
- Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes, on most days.
- Keep your alcohol intake within recommended safe limits.
- Cut back on salt intake – don’t add salt during cooking or at the table, and compare labels to select products with the lowest content of salt/sodium chloride.
- Avoid excess stress, which increases your blood pressure by an amount equivalent to carrying an extra 20kg in weight, or an additional 20 years in age.
- Know your blood pressure.
- Know your cholesterol balance.
- Maintain good control of heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and raised cholesterol (through diet, lifestyle and prescribed medication).
Last modified: June 10, 2021