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Update Your Heart Smarts: New Research & Advice
The American Heart Association’s annual Go Red for Women campaign strives to make all of us smarter when it comes to heart health. But the campaign reflects a special focus on women — raising awareness that heart disease isn't just a men's disease.
A recent poll showed that only 13 percent of women list heart disease (including heart attack and stroke) as their most serious health threat. But the reality is that cardiovascular disease kills one in four women, making it far more deadly than breast cancer.
The good news: We seem to be getting the message. For the fifth consecutive year, heart disease–related deaths in women have dropped, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. Women are living longer and healthier lives, and heart disease deaths are occurring at much later ages than in past years.
Follow a doctor's orders
Most health experts, including doctors at Mayo Clinic, agree that a combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise and regular stress management practices like yoga and meditation are among the top 10 ways to prevent heart disease. Your health professional may also be able to offer more specific and lesser-known insight on simple heart-healthy changes — such as how making sure you're eating breakfast can help lower your risk of heart disease.
Try new ways to manage stress
It’s fair to say that when it comes to heart health, most of us know the basics. We know that exercise is great, smoking is terrible, and we should opt for oatmeal more often than three-egg omelets. But many of us tend to dismiss the impact of stress.
Yet recent studies indicate that stress could play a more dramatic role than experts once believed. One study noted in The New York Times showed that chronic stress can be as damaging to the heart as smoking and fat-laden diets — especially when the stress is related to work or marital strife. Stress tends to encourage bad habits, such as smoking, drinking, overeating or insomnia. It also causes the body to release stress hormones such as cortisol that weaken the immune system.
In other words, it’s important to make relaxation a habit. Here are a few ways to incorporate some R&R into your daily routine and help your heart:
Do some yoga
Practicing sun salutations or other sequences of yoga positions regularly is one of the healthiest ways to alleviate stress and relax both mind and body.
Maintaining a focus on the breath during yoga allows us to (briefly) tune out the world, and let go of external pressures and anxiety. According to experts, this helps lower blood pressure and the cortisol levels in our system. Yoga also conditions the body, increases strength, boosts flexibility, and promotes endurance and balance.
Learn to meditate
Long accepted as a relaxation technique, meditation has recently started to gain widespread acceptance for its health benefits. Research shows that meditation can improve health and well-being in profound ways. It causes breathing to deepen and pulse rates to slow down. It may even change patterns within the brain.
Regular meditation lowers blood pressure, lifts depression and eases stress. In fact, the National Institutes of Health recommends meditation to treat hypertension, which is one of the primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease. So if you're not meditating, check out some beginner's meditation articles or meditation how-to books, DVDs or CDs.
Enjoy some wine & chocolate
What would Valentine’s Day, Mother's Day, and anniversaries be without a bit of indulgence? It turns out that savoring a glass of wine and a piece of dark chocolate isn’t just good for the spirit. Both are loaded with heart-healthy, immune-boosting antioxidants. Better yet, the American Heart Association says that taking pleasure in life is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Opt for organic and fair trade chocolate and do your heart good by doing something good for the world around you, too.
Take in some soothing sounds
Harmony is important to our sense of well-being, and researchers at the University of Oxford can prove it. Their studies show that slow, meditative music calms the nervous system and slows the heart rate. Perhaps the best gift-from-the-heart you can give yourself is to allow your heart to beat just a little more slowly.