Getting Smart about Heart Health

We all know the ABCs of maintaining a healthy heart: eat high-fiber, lower-fat foods. Get more exercise. Don't smoke. Live a balanced life.

And, if it seems that you've heard this chorus a lot lately, it's because February is American Heart Month. So far, one message has registered loud and clear with me: heart disease kills more women than cancer. In fact, it's Public Enemy No. 1, killing nearly 350,000 women each year.

Earlier this month, the American Heart Association published new guidelines on how women should be more aggressive about reducing their risk of heart attack. For the first time, they have recommended that women talk to their doctors about aspirin therapy.

The American Heart Association is also trying to raise awareness about risks of heart disease for women via proposed federal legislation called HEART Act for Women. The legislation is meant to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment for women. They've posted an online petition at their site.

Meanwhile, as a result of all the heart-friendly articles, I stumbled across some surprising new ways to improve heart health. CNN has compiled an interesting list of slightly offbeat ways to stave off heart attacks and strokes, a few of which I'd never heard before. They tucked these suggestions in along with more prosaic advice (eat more fish, get more sleep, drink more milk). Their complete list — along with medical research to back the claims — is posted at CNN.com.

Here are some tips that I liked:

Pomegranate juice might just work miracles

Considering that I love the stuff, I'm thrilled to learn that pomegranate juice seems to have the power to prevent or perhaps even reverse the hardening of arteries. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that pomegranate was shown to reduce cholesterol build-up in mice by up to 30 percent. It may also prompt heart cells to produce nitric oxide, which prevents plaque from forming in our arteries. Now, the only question is whether this applies to pomegranate martinis too.

Dark soy sauce is a stealth fighter

It seems that dark soy sauce (not the light variety) contains 10 times the antioxidants in wine. It can fight some of the damaging properties linked to smoking, obesity and diabetes. According to the National University of Singapore, it's a good idea to spike marinades, soups, stir-fries, salad dressings and whatever else you can think of with dark soy sauce. But, CNN reminds us to use soy in moderation, because of its high salt content.

Create a chill-out playlist or CD

It's well-known that harmony is critical to our well-being. But, a new study from the University of Oxford takes the idea one step further. Their research shows that Kenny G. is good and punk rock is bad. Okay, I am embellishing a tiny bit. But their research showed that slower, meditative music is healthier for us, because it causes the heart to beat more slowly. Fast tempos tend to rev us up too much.

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