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One month to a healthier heart

Friday, January 29, 2010

Its little things you can do now that will keep your ticker going strong for life.

“Heart attack? It will never happen to me.” If you’ve ever had this thought, it’s time for a wake-up call: A Harvard study found that 92% of women are in jeopardy of developing cardiovascular disease. “Fortunately, research suggests that your lifestyle-from the friends you interact with to the time you go to bed-has a huge impact on your heart,” says Marie Savard, M.D., a Philadelphia internist. Honor American Heart Month by incorporating these tweaks into your daily routine and you’ll improve your well-being-and slash your risk of becoming a statistic.

1. Be a sodium sleuth. The average woman consumes nearly 50% more than the recommended daily sodium threshold of 2,400 milligrams (mg), raising her risk for high blood pressure. Laying off the salt shaker can help, but it won’t make a huge dent. “Nearly 80% of our sodium intake comes from processed foods,” says Marisa Moore, R.D., an Atlanta nutritionist. Check the nutrition labels on every package: One survey revealed that 3 out of 4 people aren’t aware that breakfast cereals and breads are often sky-high in the mineral.

2. Go out with the girls. Meeting up with your pals may be just as heart-healthy as hitting the gym. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that lonely people had blood pressures that were 10 to 30 points higher than their more sociable counterparts. “Bonding with friends can also keep stress at bay,” says study author Louise Hawkley, Ph.D. Over time, chronic stress can trigger inflammation, an immune system response that leads to fatty deposits in the arteries.

3. Have a baked potato. Spuds are a top source of potassium, a mineral that can offset the effects of sodium. According to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, consuming twice as much potassium as sodium daily can halve your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Most American consume only half of the 4,700 mg recommended daily, so load up on potatoes (900 mg each) and bananas (430 mg each).

4. Try interval training. Do you usually set the elliptical on the same perfect-for-magazine-reading pace? Switch up your cardio routine by incorporating brief bursts of high-intensity exercise: Researchers from Canada’s McMaster University found that 20 minutes of interval training (alternating near-maximum exertion with low-intensity recovery periods) is just as effective at strengthening your ticker as an hour of moderate exercise. “During these ‘sprints’, your heart pumps faster and harder, strengthening your arteries,” explains study author Maureen MacDonald, Ph.D. Try it next time you’re on the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike by going all-out for 30 seconds every 5 minutes.

5. Use your bean. “Legumes are high in phytosterols and lignans, substances that bind to cholesterol in the small intestine and prevent it from being absorbed into the bloodstream,” says Keri Gans, R.D., a dietitian in New York City. In fact, research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that 1/3 of a cup of cooked or canned beans daily can slash your chances of having a heart attack by up to 39 percent.

6. Do a D check. Women with vitamin D deficiencies in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s are 3 times more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life than those with normal levels, according to a new University of Michigan study. Unfortunately, some 75% of Americans fall short on their intake of the vitamin, which is found in fish and dairy products. “That’s why every woman should ask her physician for a simple blood test to check vitamin D levels,” says Savard. If the result is below 28 nanograms per milliliter, she may recommend taking a supplement (look for those made with D3, which is absorbed more easily than D).

7. Take a tech break. Plugged in 24/7? While that may impress your colleagues, it can do a number on your heart. “Being accessible at all times puts you on edge,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., a cardiologist in New York City. “That increases the production of adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones that cause your blood pressure to rise.” To counteract that effect, log off of e-mail and mute your phone for an hour each night.

8. Wear earplugs to bed. Whether your window faces a busy street or your husband snores, nighttime noise increases your odds of developing high blood pressure by up to 45%, reports a study from Sweden’s Lund University. “It interrupts sleep and creates stress, says researcher Theo Bodin. To reclaim some peace & quiet, pick up a comfortable pair of earplugs, such as those from Mack’s ($2; amazon.com).

9. Call a funny friend. According to a University of Maryland study, laughing for just 15 minutes can boost blood flow by 22%. “It causes the endothelium, the tissue lining the insides of blood vessels, to relax,” says study author Michael Miller, M.D. “Over the long run, that can prevent your arteries from hardening and lower your risk of heart attacks and stroke.”

10. Sip some green tea. Drinking a mug increases blood flow in as few as 30 minutes, according to a recent study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation. “The catechins, or antioxidants, in tea improve blood vessel function,” explains lead researcher Nikolaos Alexopoulos, M.D., who notes that black tea has a similar advantage.

11. Eat your fruits & veggies first. It’s a smart move for your waistline and your health. According to a new study from the University of Florida, people who began each meal with fresh produce consumed more nutrients and less saturated fat all day than those who didn’t. “A salad fills you up, so you won’t eat as much of the heavier main course,” says Heather Vincent, Ph.D., the study’s lead author.

12. Snuggle up with Snowball. “Pets have a soothing effect, acting as a buffer against stress,” explains Adnan Qureshi, M.D., the executive director of the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Research Clinic at the University of Minneapolis. In his study, cat owners were up to 40% less likely to dies from a heart attack than those without a feline friend. (Dogs probably provide the same benefit.)

13. Send yourself to bed. Researchers from Britain’s Warwick University found that women who got just 5 hours of shut-eye a night were twice as likely to die from heart disease than those who logged at least 7. “Skimping on sleep can promote calcium buildup in the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack-causing plaque,” says study author Michelle Miller, Ph.D.

14. Clear the air. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that common pollutants, such as soot, nitrates, and metals, can cause inflammation in the body. That, in turn, makes arteries less flexible and triggers a rapid spike in blood pressure. If you live near a major thoroughfare, avoid exercising outside during peak traffic times. And invest in a HEPA filter in your home, such as those by Honeywell (from $111; amazon.com)

15. Speak up. A heated argument with your mom can raise your stress levels and blood pressure. But research shows that bottling up your feelings won’t do your heart any favors either. A Western Washington University study found that women who refrained from saying what was on their mind had a higher risk of heart disease. If something’s bothering you, bring it up.

16. Give sardines a try. Experts recommend getting 500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily to protect against inflammation and lower blood fats, called triglycerides. One convenient source is sardines, which contain 830 mg per 3-ounce serving. “Toss the fish with spicy mustard and sliced red onions, then serve them with whole-grain crackers or bread,” says Moore. Or try canned wild salmon, with 650 mg of omega-3 per 3-ounce serving.

17. Break out the honey. Overdosing on sugar may suppress the production of nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and widen, say scientists at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. An easy way to cut back: Swap the sweetener for honey. It’s more concentrated, so you can use less. Research shows that those who opt for honey have lower cholesterol levels than those who sprinkle on sugar.

18. Spice up your supper. Onions and garlic not only flavor dishes without adding sodium or fat, they also provide a type of fiber called inulin. “This prebiotic promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the small intestine, which helps remove excess LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol,” explains Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., R.D., a nutritionist in Sarasota, Florida. Other top inulin sources: artichokes, leeks, and bananas.

19. Hop on the bandwagon. Cheap and convenient, resistance bands are an essential part of any home gym. A recent study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research shows that exercisers who used them along with dumbbells gained up to three times the body strength as those who only lifted weights. “Building muscle mass can reduce your body fat and raise your ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels,” say Goldberg.

20. Order a smarter slice. Ask for your pizza with half the cheese and double the sauce and you’ll slash the saturated fat by 5 grams. “Plus, tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that fights the cell damage that can lead to atherosclerosis,” says Gans. In fact, Harvard researchers found that women who ate 7 or more servings of tomato-based foods a week were 65% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who consumed fewer than 2.

21. Get busy in the bedroom. People who have sex three or more times a week are half as likely to suffer a heart attack as those who heat up the sheets less frequently, report researchers from Britain’s University of Bristol. “Sex can relive stress, burn calories, and improve your relationship-all factors that benefit the heart,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University.

22. Have a heart-to-heart with your mom. “If she’s had cardiovascular disease before age 65, your own risk doubles,” says Savard. If you have a family history, check in with your M.D.; women under the age of 50 are usually screened every 2 years, but you should get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked yearly.

23. Drink your veggies. Sneak in an extra serving of produce by sipping on low-sodium vegetable juice. A recent study from the University of California, Davis, found that people who drank 2 cups a day lowered their blood pressure by up to 5 points after 3 months. Other research shows that, besides providing nutrients, veggie juice may help you shed pounds, which can safeguard the heart.

24. Say om. That post-yoga glow can benefit your heart along with your soul. A study from the Indian Institute of Technology found that people who practice have steadier heart rates, a marker of a healthy ticker, than those who don’t. Researchers explain that yoga soothes the nervous system, which slows breathing and calms the heart.

I know this was quite a long blog – sorry about that. I hope some of these tips will help you to improve your cardiovascular system.

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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PJSTIME 1/30/2010 1:48PM

    Thanks for the tips most I knew but its always good to see them again as a reminder. I have changed so many things since starting Spark and they are good changes. I wish you a wonderful day my friend. PJ

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LLLAWSON 1/29/2010 9:34AM

    Wow.. what a list. Think I will print and put on my fridge. So much great info.
Potassium - hear this over and over - think I'll have a baked potato for lunch
Ear Plungs- hadn't heard that before - but I know from personal experience (hubby snores) that I feel more rested when I wear them to bed
Honey - that's a new one to me
Veggies - I think about this one alot - one I really need to work on


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SPYKEY_RYE 1/29/2010 7:26AM

    This is really interesting, thanks so much for these tips!

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The 5 healthiest nuts

Thursday, January 28, 2010

All nuts are rich in vitamin E, magnesium, protein, and fiber, but these picks go beyond that. Alternate the types you eat to get the maximum benefits.

1 oz./49 nuts
158 calories
13 g fat
3 g fiber

Pistachios are high in cholesterol-lowering plant sterols and have more potassium than most nuts (291 mg per ounce).

1 oz./23 nuts
163 calories
14 g fat
4 g fiber

One ounce provides half your daily vitamin E-more than any other nut. It also supplies 8 percent of your daily calcium needs.

1 oz./21 nuts
178 calories
17 g fat
3 g fiber

These are rich in iron and proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that strengthen blood vessels and prevent UTI’s.

1 oz./14 halves
185 calories
18 g fat
2 g fiber

Walnuts deliver the most omega-3 fatty acids and contain the antioxidant ellagic acid, which supports the immune system.

Brazil nuts
1 oz./6 nuts
186 calories
19 g fat
2 g fiber

A single Brazil nut provides your daily dose of selenium, an antioxidant that may play a role in preventing breast cancer.

Wow, I had heard that nuts were good for you, but I didn’t realize just how good! I’m sure glad that I LOVE nuts (both the edible kinds and the human ones.)

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

LLLAWSON 1/28/2010 8:02AM

    I love nuts for snacks. They seem to help with the hunger till the next meal. emoticon

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P31W247 1/28/2010 7:57AM

    Your a nutty person i can tell LOL.

Thanks for the info, i think i will pick up some walnuts on the way home. Haven't had any in ages, i used to love them.


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CELEST 1/28/2010 7:15AM

    The human ones........ emoticon then you're just going to love me emoticon, I'm as nutty as they come.
Funny, I generally avoid nuts purely because they are so heavy in calories, but I can see the value in adding them to salads because they are so good for you. Thanks for the article, you have reformed at least this nut.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Some so-called smart eats are just junk food in disguise. Cut back on them and your thighs will thank you.

Chips, gooey desserts, anything that starts with “fried”-you know to fight off these calorie cows with a stick. What’s tricky is that some foods with famously healthy reputations are actually worse for your weight than the snacks in vending machines and drive-throughs. This article will fill you in on what they are and why they keep you from hitting that golden number on the scale.

Sushi Rolls

The veggies and seaweed wrap are low-cal, but a lot of the most popular rolls are slathered with cream cheese or mayo (e.g., in that spicy sauce that comes on many options), and the seafood inside may be tempura-battered. Thanks to those ingredients, a standard roll can clock in at 500 to 600 calories. Also, soy sauce is loaded with sodium. It won’t make you gain weight, but it’s cause you to retain water, so your jeans will feel (and look) tighter.

Dried Fruit

Cup for cup, dried fruit has five to eight times more calories than the fresh kind because it has been dehydrated and is much denser. Fresh grapes, for example, have 60 calories per cup, while raisins have 460. And many brands add sugar, amping up the calorie count even more.


Since it’s loaded with good-for-you nuts and oats, it’s too bad that they add oil to make it crisp and tons of sugar for more yumminess. One bowl racks up around 500 calories. Other cereals with the same nutrients but less oil and sugar pack half that.

Bran Muffins

Whether it’s plain bran or mixed with apples or bananas, the fiber fills you up, sure, but considering all the sugar and butter it delivers, a bran muffin is basically just a round slice of cake. One weighs in at about 20 grams of fat, 420 calories, and 34 grams of sugar.


You put so little into your coffee, it seems like a harmless way to get calcium – especially when compared to full-fat cream. But a few spoonfuls per cup of joe two or three times a day quickly turns into 200 or more calories plus the same amount of fat as a big pat of butter!


No matter what you put in it, the average wrap is a major offender. If you roll it out, it can be 1 foot across – seriously – and pack up to 300 calories. Sine the surface area is way bigger than two slices of bread, you coat it with a lot more mayo or dressing than you would a sub or sandwich.

Bottled Teas

Most store-bought brands are souped up with sugar or honey, which are crazy-caloric sweeteners. Oh, and one bottle can contain two or more servings, bringing the calorie count to almost 200 – similar to a bottle of soda.

Rice Cakes

These light snacks are fat-free and low in calories, but they’re also completely lacking in fiber or protein-ingredients that experts say actually curb hunger. That means downing two or three won’t do anything but add more calories to your daily total and leave you craving something with substance. And limit the flavored kinds-they don’t satisfy you more and they tend to have lots of sugar or sodium.

Veggie Burgers

Sure, skipping beef in lieu of a meat-free patty may save you a little fat and cholesterol. But depending on the brand and what you put on it, you could easily end up housing more than 1,000 calories. The cheese that often binds the veggies together and the huge size of the burgers are anything but diet-friendly. Add a bun and some ketchup and you might as well have had the quarter-pounder.


Reaching your recommended daily fruit-serving goal by getting it in liquid form might be the reason you can’t fit into last year’s LBD. A 16-ounce bottle of OJ or apple juice has 55 grams of carbohydrates, the equivalent of five slices of bread. And most of that is sugar – a whopping 12 spoonfuls of it.

Diet Microwave Meals

The lean ready-to-eat dishes tend to be high in sodium-since the manufacturers can’t rely on calorie-rich fat to make the stuff taste good, they resort to salt. As a result, scarfing them will make you retain water, especially in your arms and legs, leaving you puffy.


There’s nothing better for you or your waist than naked veggies, but the shredded cheese, candied nuts, croutons, and globs of dressing often make salads as caloric as an oversize dish of pasta. And nutritionists are quick to point out that innocent-sounding vinaigrettes, though not as fattening as creamy ranches, can be almost as high-cal.


Order this health food at a restaurant and what you’ll most likely get is a plateful of sodium, calories, saturated fat, and even sugar. Tofu itself isn’t the issue-the problem is that the white stuff is so bland, it’s often served doused in decadent sauces then deep-fried to give it flavor and texture, making it a diet disaster.

Diet Faux Pas – Artificial sweetener can be up to 600 times sweeter than the real thing. So you get used to supersugary tastes and end up with killer dessert cravings.

The point of all this is just be really aware of what you are actually eating, okay?

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

SPYKEY_RYE 1/29/2010 7:29AM

    These are some great tips! I recently discovered that about rice cakes, I bought some for my desk at work thinking they'd be a low calorie snack, and didn't realise they had 81g of carbohydrates in each one! Madness!

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LLLAWSON 1/27/2010 8:33AM

    All great points. Need to be reminded of these from time to time. emoticon

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PJSTIME 1/27/2010 7:54AM

    Thanks for the info we all need to read and study labels and research food when possible before we eat it PJ

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MRSLEENY 1/27/2010 7:14AM

    Thanks for all the info! I also heard that eating sushi with with rice is like eating tablespoons of sugar! If we all ate just whole foods, the world would be a healthy place for everyone. emoticon

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RIDLEYRIDER 1/27/2010 6:51AM

  I gave up dried fruits years ago. emoticon

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CARMEL466 1/27/2010 6:51AM

    Great blog. Thanks for the information.

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LYNNDAROB04 1/27/2010 6:48AM

  I agree. I always try to eat fresh fruit or plain almonds for snack. The less ingredients the better.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When it comes to getting active, you may be better off investing in a dog than a gym membership. Researchers in Great Britain recently surveyed 5000 people and found that those with dogs exercised up to six hours more a week than those who worked out at a gym or on their own.

According to the study, the average dog owner walks his pet for less than 30 minutes twice daily and then longer three times a week. Those short spurts add up to more than eight hours of physical activity a week.

Researchers say the difference can be attributed in part to varying levels of enjoyment. While 86% of dog owners said they enjoy the time with their pets, only 16% of respondents rated going to the gym favorably.

Perhaps that’s also why dog owners are more likely to make physical activity a priority. Nearly two-thirds said they walk their pets even when they’re pressed for time. Compare that with 46% of gym-goers who admitted to often making excuses not to work out. Sound familiar? Try the dog owner’s secret of breaking up your workout into small bursts of activity. The miles and minutes will add up.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

55WALKER 1/26/2010 10:58AM

    Come to think of it, when I see people out walking their dogs they do tend to be healthier looking people. Watching people at the dog park is sort of like watching people at a gym physically but they look much less grim! I don't go to a gym, but there may be a dog in my future after my old cat is gone.


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PJSTIME 1/26/2010 10:56AM

    This is true. I walk Sadie 2 times a day. PJ

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PJSTIME 1/26/2010 10:56AM

    This is true. I walk Sadie 2 times a day. PJ

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SEXXISADIE 1/26/2010 9:33AM

    Oh wow! Do you have a doggy? I always wanted a welsh corgi, maybe nows the time to get him! And little ferrets can ride on its back haha. Great info!

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LLLAWSON 1/26/2010 9:30AM

    Six hours more! Wow. I don't have a dog, but sounds like a good reason to get one. My sister has one and they NEVER walk it, and it shows on all of them. Poor puppy. emoticon

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DAISES2 1/26/2010 9:21AM

    animals are great for lots of reasons,including mental heath.
another good blog

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STARRPARENT 1/26/2010 8:57AM

    Thanks for this info. I don't have an animal, but if I had a dog I'd certainly go walking with it!

Have a good day out walking!


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MYFEETHURT 1/26/2010 8:41AM

  Great info, Judy. I've written blogs about walking our old dog, Molly. She really is my personal trainer! Her little eyes say...LET'S GO, LET'S GO, LET'S GO...every single morning and evening. mary

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VEUVEGIRL 1/26/2010 7:51AM

    Very interesting!

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Beauty on your plate

Monday, January 25, 2010

Not all beauty products come in jars from the cosmetics counter. Some come in packages from the supermarket.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil and soybeans are good fats that help you look good too by helping to promote supple skin, healthy, shiny hair and strong nails.
Dark green veggies like spinach, swiss chard and broccoli deliver a beauty bonus. They are rich in vitamin A, which helps support healthy skin, tissues and cells.
For more skin-loving nutrients, don’t forget antioxidant vitamins C&E, the free-radical fighters found in berries, papaya, seeds and nuts.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

LLLAWSON 1/25/2010 8:32AM

    Well said - both of you. Sometimes we don't realize all the ways food affects our bodies. We usually only hear how bad choices affect us. Focusing on how good foods benefit us helps to want to make good choice.

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SHANNONSTILLS 1/25/2010 7:50AM

  Excellent. Beauty truly comes from the inside out.

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