Are You Heart Smart?

Nearly 40 percent of women, age 20 and older, have some form of heart disease. To keep your heart strong, you have to focus on cholesterol and blood pressure.

The ideal total cholesterol level is under 200 mg/dL if your level is above 240 mg/dL try to eliminate trans fats and alcohol. If your BMI is on the high side, try to lose some weight (dropping as little as 5 percent of your weight can help raise HDL and even out your overall cholesterol). Ideally, your LDL (bad) cholesterol should be under 100 mg/dL and HDL (good) cholesterol above 60 mg/dL. The worst type of fat for your heart, especially if you’re a woman are triglycerides (triglycerides under 150 mg/dL is ideal).

Blood pressure is another measure to help monitor your heart health. The top number (systolic) measures the pressure in your arteries as your heart beats; the bottom number (diastolic) measures that pressure between beats. A blood pressure under 120/80 is ideal. If you have high blood pressure, limit salt to less than 1,500 milligrams per day, reduce stress and stop smoking (each cigarette you smoke temporarily increases your blood pressure).

Steps to Optimize Your Cholesterol

  • Eat a healthy diet with healthy fats. The good fats in foods like avocado, coconut oil, extra- virgin olive oil, wild-caught fish, nuts, and seeds can improve the type and quantity of cholesterol in your body.
  • Eat a low-glycemic load diet. Besides healthy fats, focus on a high-fiber, plant-based diet with lots of phytonutrients and omega 3 fats. That includes lots of non-starchy veggies. Consume plenty of good-quality protein found in beans, seeds, nuts, and high-quality, sustainably raised or grass-fed animal protein.
  • Exercise regularly. Studies show consistent, regular exercise can optimize cholesterol levels. If you’re a newbie, even 30 minutes of walking will help. More advanced exercisers can incorporate weight training and high-intensity interval training.
  • Focus on quality sleep. Optimizing blood sugar is just one of the numerous benefits of eight hours of sleep every night. Practice good sleep practices: Turn off the TV and Internet a few hours before bedtime.

For more: Dr. Hyman on Heart Health.

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