Getting to the Heart of the Matter

by Dr. Kimberly Albarran, PT, DPT, Physical Therapy and Nutrition Coaching

Consider these keys to keeping your cardiovascular system — heart, arteries, veins — healthy.


Exercise
Keeps the heart muscle strong. Helps blood vessels produce substances such as nitric oxide and other substances important for maintaining normal blood pressure, blood clotting, inflammation and platelet aggregation to protect and repair vessel lining.

The American Heart Association recommends spending at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of vigorous intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of both, throughout the week. Moderate intensity exercise is described as 50 to 70% of maximum heart rate; vigorous intensity is 70 to 85%.  

To calculate: take 220 minus age, i.e., if you are 40 years old, take 220-40 and your maximum heart rate is 180 bpm (beats per minutes). Multiply max heart rate value by the percentage you want for moderate or vigorous intensity to find where your heart rate should be during exercise. 

(If you have a medical condition check with your physician first). 

Nutrition
Meals high in saturated fat, such as marbled steak with butter sauce, cause the endothelium to release substances that constrict the arteries and make the blood thicker, which increases risk for a clot. 

Eating a whole-food, anti-inflammatory diet high in heathy fats including avocados, olive oil, omega 3 oils (salmon, seaweed, flax, chia seeds, hemp hearts), a rainbow of fruits and vegetables high in anti-oxidants and dietary fiber helps manage cholesterol and reduces inflammation and oxidative stress-damaging effects on the heart and vessels.

Blueberries and beets are especially good, as are such supplements as Co-Q10 that can help with energy, reduced inflammation, oxidative stress.

Mindfulness, meditation
Both reduce stress on the heart. Stress hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine increase heart rate and blood pressure. This happens during exercise and will return to normal when activity is completed. However, under prolonged mental and emotional stress, heart rate and blood pressure may stay high causing negative effects on the heart, blood vessels and potentially other organs, with or without exercise.