Health Food for Heart Fitness

Three Ways to Improve Heart Health

Dr. John Agwunobi, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., Chief Health and Nutrition Officer | Herbalife Nutrition​ | February 6, 2018
Improve your heart health during American Heart Month with three simple steps. http://hrbl.me/2BZt95yClick To Tweet

February is American Heart Month. But highlighting the importance of heart health isn’t something we can afford to do for 28 days once a year. It’s an ongoing challenge, and its urgency can’t be stressed enough. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the United states, causing one in four deaths in this country every year.

 

If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. But there’s good news: preventing heart problems, keeping your heart healthy, avoiding heart disease and leading a better lifestyle are largely matters of choice for most of us. And at Herbalife Nutrition, we are doing our part to help our customers – and the public at-large – make those smart choices.

 

Fortunately, the decisions in front of us are pretty logical and straightforward. Indeed, a healthy heart begins with three simple steps:

  • Getting Active – just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can dramatically improve your prospects for cardiovascular wellness.
  • Achieving and Maintaining a Healthy Weight – if you’re overweight or obese, getting into the habit of shaving off a few pounds can significantly improve your cardiovascular system.
  • Eating Healthy – more nutrition, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-sodium foods, and low-fat dairy, add up to a heart healthy diet.

Obviously, this isn’t rocket science. Yet that doesn’t make any of it easy. It requires shifts in folks’ routines and regimens, and it demands a level of discipline and focus that many people’s lives, jobs, and family situations may not allow. Still, though, we have to get back to the basics and encourage as many of our friends and neighbors as possible to get on board.

 

Getting Active is Key

 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lay out a wide range of benefits of regular exercise. It can help you:

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer

Now, if you’re unsure about boosting your level of exercise out of a concern that you may get injured or hurt, fear not – “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” can amount to something as fundamental as brisk walking, which is considered safe for most people, although it is always best to discuss with your physician before beginning any sort of exercise plan. And you shouldn’t ramp up your regimen too quickly anyway; if you’re out of practice, take things one step at a time; build yourself up to harder tasks gradually; so that eventually being active will become part of your daily routine.

Only about 53.4 percent of Americans do so, according to the latest data available from Gallup. Which means almost half of us exercise little if at all. To help our hearts, that has to change. Because, as the CDC reminds us, “the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks of getting hurt.”

 

A Healthy Weight Means a Healthier Heart

The CDC reports that there are important health benefits associated with modest weight loss (5 to 10 percent of your total body weight), including lower blood pressure, decreased blood cholesterol, and reduced blood sugars. With significant weight loss, people report improvements in physical health, energy levels, physical mobility, general mood, and self-confidence.

These aims, by the way, exist on a continuum – even if you set a larger goal for shedding pounds, you can start small, start exercising a little more each week, start eating better, and eventually, the big-picture objectives won’t seem so far out of reach.

Then the challenge becomes keeping the weight off, which is far easier said than done. Again, however, meeting this challenge requires us to stick with the basics: healthier lifestyles grow out of balance in the foods and beverages you consume, the way you perform daily tasks, and the amount of activity in your regular routine. You can count calories, keep a food diary, track your exercise on a spreadsheet or a mobile app, or try all of the above. The point is, if you act on that resolution to slim down, cut calories, and stay that way, you’ll be far more likely to meet your standards.

A healthy, balanced, nutritious diet is a matter of making different decisions about what we buy at the grocery store and put on our tables. More fruits and vegetables are a must, as they can reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Avoiding soft drinks that are obscenely high in sugar and packaged foods that are chock-full of salt, saturated fats, and chemical preservatives are key steps. Incorporating a nice complement of fish, lean meats, soy protein, and fiber is critical too.

 

You Are What You Eat

 

 
The last piece of the heart health puzzle: eating right. A healthy, nutritious diet is about what we choose to buy at the grocery store, cook at home, or order at a restaurant. It’s made up of the right balance between macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It consists of fruits and vegetables; lean meats, nuts, fish, soy protein, plants, and fiber; not to mention avoiding soft drinks and packaged goods that are overloaded with salt and sodium.

In case you’re wondering what that looks like, Susan Bowerman, director, worldwide nutrition training at Herbalife Nutrition, laid out a few examples of the types of meals you can easily make at home, such as:

  • A colorful salad. Bright orange carrots, red tomatoes and deep-green spinach owe their colors to a group of heart-healthy antioxidant pigments, called carotenoids. For added benefit, toss in some avocado and dress your salad with a little olive oil – since carotenoids are fat-soluble, the addition of small amounts of heart-healthy fats to your salad will help your body absorb these beneficial compounds from the vegetables. Cooked beans make a heart-healthy addition, too, since their water-soluble fiber can help to keep cholesterol levels in check.
  • Fresh fish is generally low in total fat and saturated fat – and is also one of the best sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which help to control the levels of certain fats in the blood, like triglycerides and cholesterol.
  • Tree nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are rich in compounds called phytosterols that can help keep cholesterol in check. Try toasting them lightly in the oven or a dry frying pan – it brings out their natural flavor – and then you can sprinkle them on top of some steamed veggies for a great side dish, or add them to your salad.
  • And for dessert, have a little bit of chocolate. Naturally occurring compounds in cocoa, called flavonoids, act as antioxidants – and the darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids you get. So have a bite of dark chocolate to finish your meal, or – for a doubly healthy dessert, drizzle some melted bittersweet chocolate over fresh berries. The natural red-purple pigments that give berries their beautiful color act as antioxidants, too.

 

All of these steps, suggestions, tips, and pointers are intended to meet the ultimate purpose of Herbalife Nutrition: whether or not you use our products, shakes, supplements, and more, we want everyone to lead heart-healthy lives. We will continue to our part, through our fitness camps, our mentorship programs, our outreach and education efforts, and anything else we do to make this happen. We only ask that all of you, our customers, to lead the charge in promoting healthier hearts – this month and every day.