Taking good care of your heart will help you live a longer and overall healthier life. With this in mind, there are many commonly accepted practices you can adopt to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Recently, heart health research has also uncovered a few surprising new ways to protect your heart and cardiovascular system, including keeping a dog and eating certain foods.
Commonly Accepted Heart-Healthy Activities
The following suggestions can help you maintain good cardiovascular health as you grow older by keeping oxygenated blood flow at an optimum level.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The ideal amount of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours per night. In some studies, getting less than five hours or more than nine hours resulted in a buildup of calcium in the blood; elevated calcium levels are considered an early warning sign of heart disease. Keeping nightly sleep duration between seven and nine hours can help protect against too much calcium in the arteries.
Eat a Healthier Diet
To maintain a healthy heart, it’s important to limit unhealthy fats and high-cholesterol foods, while also avoiding excessive sugar, alcohol and salt consumption. While this may seem like a tall order, it can be easier to accomplish by switching to a primarily plant-based diet. Three-quarters of each meal should be comprised of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. You can add a small portion of lean red meat and whole grains if necessary.
Get More Exercise
The heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle, it grows stronger with regular exercise. Getting a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise every day will keep your heart strong. Daily physical activity should consist of both resistance training (weight lifting) and cardio (jogging, bicycling, swimming) to help burn fat and build muscle.
New Heart Health Research Links the Brain and Heart
Recent heart health research has found a strong connection between the brain and the cardiovascular system. In one study, it was found that cardiovascular disease had an adverse effect on cognitive functioning, increasing the rate at which dementia developed. This connection prompted a new study that looked at how genetic and environmental factors affected the development of the brain and the cardiovascular system. The study, which was undertaken at Atlanta’s Emory University, tried to answer this question by looking at twins.
The researchers assembled 272 pairs of fraternal and identical twins for the study, while ensuring all of the subjects had not been diagnosed with dementia or cardiovascular disease. They examined cognitive functioning and compared those results with cardiovascular health, which was measured by taking blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and body mass measurements. They also considered diet and physical activity levels in determining their findings.
In general, they found that genetic factors seemed to play a large role in cognitive and cardiovascular health. Regardless of whether the subjects were identical or fraternal twins, they seemed to share similar health levels. They also found that, while genetics played a major role, cognitive and cardiovascular health could also be modified through lifestyle habits. The researchers concluded that adopting heart-healthy practices early in life could benefit the heart and the brain simultaneously.
New and Surprising Ways to Keep Your Heart Strong and Healthy
Recently, heart health research has discovered a few new and surprising ways to maintain a healthy heart.
Owning a Dog Protects Heart Health
In looking at the results of two studies, it was found that dog owners are less likely to die following a stroke or heart attack. In addition to reducing the risks of cardiovascular events, the research also found that owning a dog reduced the risks of mortality from all causes.
The first study looked at 186,421 heart attack survivors and 157,851 stroke survivors to see how many of the subjects had owned dogs. They found that dog owners had a significantly reduced risk of death following heart attack or stroke and subsequent hospitalization. Dog owners who had suffered heart attacks had a 33 percent reduced risk of death, while stroke sufferers had a 27 percent lower risk.
Music Reduces Stress That Contributes to Heart Disease
In a separate Brazilian study, researchers found that listening to music while driving also helped reduce the type of stress that contributes to heart disease. The study examined young, inexperienced female drivers between the ages of 18 and 23. None of the subjects had had their driver’s license for more than seven years. The researchers also chose drivers who drove less than twice a week because they felt people who drove more frequently wouldn’t experience the same level of stress.
The test consisted of driving three kilometers over a period of 20 minutes through Manila’s busiest streets. The first time each driver navigated this route, they had to do so with the radio off. The second time, they listened to music as they drove the three kilometers. By measuring the heart rate of each subject, the researchers were able to determine the drivers experienced less stress when they were able to listen to music. When they were driving in silence, their heart rates were higher and exhibited fewer rest periods, indicating heightened levels of stress.
Beans and Peas Provide Cardiovascular Benefits
Another recent research project focused on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming more legumes, particularly peas and beans. These foods are known to be rich in protein, fiber and micronutrients, while also possessing very low levels of fat and sugar. Due to these health benefits, people suffering from diabetes, low blood pressure and high cholesterol are encouraged to consume more legumes on a daily basis.
The new study found that people who ate more peas and beans exhibited a decreased risk for cardiovascular events. Specifically, the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by up to 13 percent, depending on how many legumes were consumed on a daily basis. The more legumes that were consumed, the greater the reduction in risk for developing cardiovascular disease. The researchers noted that eating legumes didn’t seem to affect the likelihood of diabetes, myocardial infarction or stroke. They also added that mortality rates from all causes may not be affected by legume consumption. Future research is needed to verify these findings, but it seems that replacing carbs with legumes can help protect your heart and improve overall longevity.