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Seeing Red, But Feeling Fine

Heart-felt Ways to Improve Cardiovascular Health

Around this time of year, the world gets slightly more rose-colored. Kids come home with heart-shaped Valentines, and stores start putting out flower bouquets and boxes of red-wrapped candy. Love, you could say, is in the air.

But with February being National Heart Month we can also focus on ways to improve the health of our most vital organ. The heart is a magnificent powerhouse. It beats an average of 40 to 100 beats per minute, helping to circulate about 2,000 gallons of blood per day. The rhythm, which can vary to some degree from person to person, is controlled by an electrical system called the cardiac conduction system. Because heart cells stop dividing, heart cancer is very rare. But heart disease is the No. 1cause of death both in the United States and globally, killing over 15 million people per year worldwide.

Often, symptoms and conditions that lead to cardiovascular events can go unnoticed and untreated. Lifestyle is fundamental to preventing heart disease and heart attacks. So, what can we do to keep ourselves and our loved ones from becoming part of the staggering statistics?

Dr. Courtney Virgilio, a cardiologist at CHI Mercy Health’s Shaw Heart and Vascular Center, says, “Diet plays a significant role in our heart health and heart-healthy eating can improve your cholesterol and your blood pressure, which are 2 big risk factors for heart disease. Eating a heart-healthy diet is a huge part of keeping your heart healthy.”

It turns out that the traditional color of Valentine’s Day, red, is also one that can benefit your precious heart in myriad ways. Lycopene, which is found in fruits like tomatoes and watermelon, can decrease LDL cholesterol which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease.

So think pomegranates, cranberries and pink grapefruits as good sources of antioxidants in the red fruit category, along with fresh and cooked tomatoes. Fresh berries such as raspberries, blackberries, marionberries and blueberries are also great to incorporate into your daily diet. If you have some frozen, blend them with ice, coconut water and a banana (a dash of cinnamon can help mitigate blood sugar spikes) for an easy DIY treat that can satisfy your sweet tooth while promoting your health.

Peer-reviewed research has noted an association between increased intake of flavonoids and a decrease in risk of coronary heart disease mortality, including decreased risk of stroke. Flavonoids are bioactive compounds found in fruits and vegetables, with high amounts found in apples, berries, citrus fruits and legumes. They are also present in certain teas, red wine and chocolate (date night, anyone?).

Getting outdoors and getting a good night’s rest are also important behaviors that will help your heart function optimally. The American Heart Association standards recommend moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. As for sleep, the ideal range for adults is seven to nine hours per night. Striving for a lifestyle that is enjoyable and free from chronic stress will improve the length and the quality of your life.

Laughter can help heart health by lowering stress hormones, giving you a rush of antibody-producing cells, reducing inflammation and increasing overall blood flow. Simply spending time with loved ones, as encouraged by the Blue Zones Project — Umpqua, will also decrease stress which in turn benefits your heart.

In February, plan to increase your intake of red fruits and vegetables, have some laughs with a friend, and take a walk with someone you haven’t connected with in a while. It turns out that some of the things in life that make our heart “leap,” “sing” and “flutter,” really do help it do its job well.

If you want more ideas and insight in how to improve your health, please join us for a free community presentation with a Q & A moderated discussion on Monday, Feb. 24, at 1 pm at Mercy Medical Center, Conference Rooms A and B. Local cardiologists Dr. Ashraf AbuSara and Dr. Ibrahim Osman will host a panel discussion focused on heart symptoms and conditions, treatment options and local services