You're truly never too young or too old to protect your heart. "The buildup of plaque in your arteries can silently start as early as your late teens and early 20s," explains Jennifer H. Mieres, M.D., professor of cardiology and population health and senior vice president, office of community and public health, at the North Shore-LIJ health system. Lower your odds of developing heart disease by keeping an eye on these key factors and lifestyle habits in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond.See More
Strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, cranberries, pomegranates, tomatoes, red chili peppers, red wine, and red grapes: These vermilion fruits and veggies contain lycopene—a carotenoid that gives foods their bright color—and flavenoids, powerful antioxidants that help prevent cell damage. Both of these phytochemicals have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, says seasonal-food expert Laura McIntosh, host of the television show Bringing It Home with Laura McIntosh.
"These powerful antioxidants keep your heart healthy, and adding some vitamin C increases the power of the flavenoids," McIntosh says. "So bring out the citrus, cabbage, spinach, and cantaloupe too!"
Spices don't just make your favorite meal sing, they're good for you too. Research shows that coronary-artery disease is an inflammatory process, says Mary Hartley, R.D., M.P.H., director of nutrition for caloriecount.com. "Many herbs and spices have antioxidant properties, which help suppress the inflammation process," Hartley says. "Herbs and spices have been used in traditional medicine across the ages and around the world. Tumeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme are all loaded with antioxidants."
What's more decadent than dark chocolate and red wine? Research shows both can keep the cardiologist away by warding off cellular damage—and that doesn't even consider how good they make you feel! Two new products wrap wine and chocolate into a single decadent treat: Bissinger's Wine Grapes are infused with Shiraz and covered in dark chocolate, and the Resvez WineTime Bar is a chocolate nutrition bar loaded with resveratrol, the potent antioxidant found in red wine.
...tea, that is. "Black tea is good for heart health," says Certified Tea Specialist Gretchen Iler. Research shows that people who regularly drink black tea have a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Could there be a better excuse to have a sip in the afternoon?
We Americans spend 55 percent of our waking hours sitting, increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease and a host of other health problems. Banish "sitting disease" with simple lifestyle changes like walking around when you're on the phone, taking frequent breaks at work, and hauling the treadmill out of the basement and strolling while you're watching TV.
"Dance your way to good heart health, seriously!" says Sohah Iqbal, M.D., a cardiologist at NYU Medical Center. "It combines muscle strengthening, cardio exercise, and mental stimulation. The combination of exercise and stress relief is just what the doctor ordered."
Diva Taunia, a professional vocalist, shed more than 150 pounds when she started a burlesque troupe focused on singing and dancing. "We have 14 women in the group, some professional and some who have never been on a stage in their lives. All are taking a chance on getting fit and owning their femininity and allure," she says. "There is something exciting and motivating about being liberated and 'owning' your body and movement."
Want to help your heart? Keep your mouth healthy! Studies suggest there may be a link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease—possibly even a more serious risk factor than high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, gender, and age, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Brushing and flossing your teeth regularly helps ward off gum disease, says Robert Ostfeld, M.D., a cardiologist at New York's Montefiore-Einstein Heart Center.
Manage your family's and your own heart health with the American Heart Association's new online health management system, heart360.org. This easy-to-use online tool lets you share and track health information with your doctor, download health reports, access a personalized action plan, and sign up for text message reminders with updates on blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, physical activity, weight, and medications. Text back, and Heart 360 will record the information for you.
Heart disease is the single leading cause of death for American women, yet the annual gyno visit is often the only routine preventive care they receive, says Steve Foley, M.D., a Colorado gynecologist. "Next time you see your gynecologist, ask for a VAP with your Pap," he says. "The VAP test evaluates women for elevated cholesterol as well as polycystic ovarian syndrome. The VAP test is much more accurate than the commonly used cholesterol screening test, is inexpensive, and can be done without fasting."
Finally, a health-related excuse to sleep in: In a recent study, every extra hour of sleep was associated with a 33 percent drop in participants' odds of developing coronary artery calcification over five years. Researchers have found that getting less than 7.5 hours of shut-eye each night is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, says Karen Kutoloski, M.D., a cardiologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
Talk about a happy heart: Science is backing up the correlation between emotions and heart health. In a recent study, people who were happy and positive were less likely to develop heart disease over a 10-year period compared with those who were not so happy, says Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "You don't have to be hearts and roses all day every day, but take the time to laugh and to appreciate the little things," she says. "When you're doing mundane tasks like cleaning the house, look for the meaning in it. Focus on the fact that you're keeping your family healthy, instead of the fact that you would rather be doing anything but scrubbing the bathtub. Having a sense of purpose boosts your long-term happiness."
"Your heart is the seat of compassion," says Kate Hanley, founder of msmindbody.com and author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide. "When someone has made you angry or you're frustrated with a situation, bring the fingertips of one hand to your heart to shift focus away from your head -- where your thoughts stir up stress—and into your heart. It's an easy way to remind yourself to lead with your heart, not your head."
Hollywood life coach Sherri Ziff asks her clients, "What does your heart have to say about that?" then explains, "When we condition ourselves to see with our hearts, not only do we become more compassionate and forgiving, but we enjoy life more, we feel more connected and less isolated, we feel happier to be alive."
Theo Nestor, author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, believes that talking to an understanding friend is good for the heart. "If I'm feeling down, I call up an old friend. We'll inevitably have at least one great chuckle over something funny. By the time the conversation is over, I feel so much better and usually have forgotten about whatever it was that was bothering me," she says.
"Research shows that women who connect with other women they feel comfortable with and can share their lives with have healthier hearts," says Gregory Anne Cox, a life and weight-loss coach for midlife women. "It's important to get together to laugh, cry, complain, plan, and be silly. It's proven that connections with people contribute to longevity."