Every year roughly 610,000 Americans die of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States for both sexes.  Yet research shows little shifts in diet and lifestyle can significantly boost your heart health.  Big bonus: Several require little or no effort. Here are 12 to try starting today. 

Start fidgeting

You may have been told to sit still as a child, but that was then.  Today a body of research has associated sitting and other sedentary behaviors with an increased risk of mortality.  Too much unrelieved “chair time” can kill you.  Studies of heart disease in England compared women who habitually sat still--with others who regularly fidgeted (moved around fitfully or restlessly) while seated.  Over 20 years of follow up, fidgeters developed heart disease significantly less frequently than women who were stationary and sat in a fixed position.   In some ways, sitting is considered the new smoking, a common lifestyle habit that contributes to many diseases and is on the increase while smoking is on the decrease.  

See a dentist

If you have periodontal (gum) disease--and half of American adults do, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)--you’re at two to three times greater risk of heart disease than people with healthy gums.  What’s the connection?  Periodontal disease is a hidden source of inflammation and infection that can age the body, the brain, and the heart.  There is a growing connection between regular oral health checks and good dental care--and avoiding arterial and heart disease.  In recent research, patients with chronic periodontitis who were treated for the condition showed an improved cardiovascular risk profile.

Add ground flax seed to your food

Just two tablespoons of ground flax seed a day sprinkled on your cereal, salad, yogurt, or other foods can make a healthy difference.  Ground flax seed has a nutty taste and is packed with nutrients.  It is a rich source of fiber and aids digestion.  Ground flax seed raises omega-3 fatty acid levels (the so-called “good fat”) in the blood and is associated with better heart, prostate, and even breast health.  A meta-analysis of 15 trials in the journal Clinical Nutrition found significant reductions in both systolic blood pressure

Drink 2 cups of hibiscus tea daily 

The hibiscus plant, which bears gorgeous blooms, is the state flower of Hawaii and the national flower of Malaysia.  It’s also a source of major health benefits.  Hibiscus is rich in antioxidants, which can prevent or delay certain kinds of cell damage.  The plant also lowers cholesterol and blood pressure according to a randomized controlled trial of traditional African hypertension medicines.  The research was reported in the Journal of Human Hypertension.  You can drink hibiscus tea, which has a pleasantly tart taste, hot or cold.    

Sit in a sauna

Scandinavians and others have sweated it out in the moist heat of saunas for centuries to soothe muscles and relax.  But saunas offer other significant benefits, as well.  Studies from Japan (using dry sauna) and Finland (using wet sauna) demonstrate stronger hearts and even suggest the more you sit in a sauna, the longer you’ll live.  Why is the sauna experience so powerful?  Because saunas probably provide the most efficient detoxification of the body--and lower blood pressure, as well.  Research in the Alternative Medicine Review found regular sauna therapy (with radiant heat or far-infrared units) appeared to be safe and that regular users received multiple health benefits.  Saunas have also helped some people suffering from COPD, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and addictions.

Eat garlic daily 

Garlic is a source of sulfur, a nonmetallic element used in medicines that helps make antioxidants and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol.  In studies at UCLA, Aged Black Garlic Extract helped maintain clean arteries in patients with metabolic syndrome by lowering the accumulation of plaque that can cause heart disease--and reversed early stages.   

Don’t eat for 12 hours a day

Periodic and intermittent fasting on a daily basis has many benefits, including prevention of disease and better treatment.  Studies show practicing time-restricted eating for 12 hours a day (for example, fasting from 8PM to 8AM) promotes healing and repair of the body.  In addition, one third of American adults are obese according to the CDC, which puts them at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases.  Fasting for certain hours each day limits food consumption.  Research suggests fasting can work for weight loss, and lowers blood pressure, too.         

Stand 5 minutes every half hour while awake

Research shows sedentary behavior is an independent risk factor for heart disease and stroke—and may be associated with risk of diabetes.  This is true even if you exercise regularly.  Yet Americans are sedentary for about six to eight hours a day; it’s 8.5-9.6 hours for those 60 and over.  Physical inactivity and poor dietary habits remain major reversable causes of death for Americans.   Only 21.5% of American adults achieve the guidelines for leisure-time aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Moderate to vigorous physical activity does not compensate for prolonged sitting, according to an American Heart Disease Scientific Statement. What exactly qualifies as “sedentary?”  Reading, watching TV, connecting online, and more.  Yet replacing sitting with standing helps maintain healthy blood sugar and weight. 

Practice breathing

Simple daily breathing exercises like 4-7-8 breathing can keep the heart’s nervous system in balance and lower stress.  This 4-7-8 technique can be done in public and at work and no one will notice that you are calming your stress response and gaining a sense of calm.
Begin by putting the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, in contact with the soft palate behind your front teeth. Try to keep your tongue there through this exercise. All you have to do is inhale silently for a count of 4 seconds through your nose. Then hold the breath for a count of  7 seconds.  The final step is to exhale slowly for 8 seconds out through the mouth making a quiet whooshing noise.  Start again by inhaling to initiate a new round of breath work and do this for a full four cycles. If you can count to 8, you can master this simple, specialized ultra-breathing exercise. 
When you inhale again, you initiate a new cycle of breath. Practice this pattern for four full breaths. 

Get busy in bed

A study from Wales followed the sex lives of 918 male subjects aged 45-59 for ten years.  The results indicate that frequent sexual activity with a partner can reduce risk of heart attack by 50%.  It is not known why this benefit developed but some ideas include the physical activity or exercise benefit, the intimacy and social bond, and the rest that often follows a frisky episode that many help people sleep more soundly. A recent Israeli study confirmed these findings. 
Dr. Joel Kahn

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