The term “heart disease” encompasses a wide range of ailments, which are aggravated by high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well as stiff or clogged arteries. And though there are many doctor-prescribed ways to lower heart disease risk, they can be expensive, invasive, and time consuming. Instead, try these research-backed tips to reverse heart disease that’ll lower your risk without costing a bundle.
1. Dressing Your Salad
All those veggies on your plate are keeping your ticker strong! Swedish scientists say carotenoids — the plant pigments found in foods like bell peppers, spinach, and carrots — prevent plaque from clogging your arteries and straining your heart. Now, University of Connecticut research shows drizzling 2 tablespoons of olive oil on your veggies throughout the day doubles carotenoid absorption. This effect is so powerful that it can reverse heart disease risk by as much as 44 percent — adding two healthy years to your life!
2. Trying a Soothing Alarm
Not fond of that jolt you get every time your alarm goes off? Neither is your heart! According to University of Connecticut researchers, opting for a soothing wake-up sound can cut your morning blood pressure surge by as much as 20 points to lower your risk of heart disease! Your best bet: Try a classical radio station on your alarm clock or download nature sounds onto your cellphone.
3. A Scented Foot Soak
Soaking your feet in warm water for 15 minutes each day isn’t just a soothing way to wind down: It can also trim up to 15 points off your blood pressure in just one week. That’s the word from Canadian scientists, who say that warming the blood prompts the blood vessels to release nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes artery walls. To increase the benefits, add 1 cup of Epsom salts and 5 drops of ylang-ylang essential oil to your soak. “Epsom salts lower blood pressure because you absorb magnesium, which is great for opening up blood vessels,” says cardiologist Steven Gundry, MD. And, the fruity, floral scent of ylang-ylang promotes calm and relaxation, an effect Korean researchers say decreases blood pressure by up to 17 points after just 20 minutes.
Topping your breakfast cereal or yogurt with a handful of nuts could reverse heart disease risk by as much as 46 percent, suggests research in the journal Nutrients. Study author Emilio Ros, MD, explains that nuts brim with nutrients (phenolics) that reduce your production of artery-clogging cholesterol, prevent the formation of blood clots and help your heart pump strongly. Tip: Roasted nuts contain twice as many phenolics as nuts that have been blanched!
5. A Campfire
Unwinding around a crackling fire in your backyard firepit (s’mores optional!) can lower your systolic blood pressure (top number) by 6 points and your diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) by 3 points in just 15 minutes, University of Alabama scientists say. Gazing at a roaring fire increases the body’s production of brain chemicals that ease the anxiety that ticks up your blood pressure. Rainy day? Researchers report you can get the same benefit by watching an online video of a campfire!
6. A Hot Toddy
Having one daily serving of alcohol — whether a glass of wine or beer or a soul-warming hot toddy — can cut your risk of heart disease by up to 55 percent. Researchers at Virginia’s Old Dominion University say small daily doses of alcohol prod the liver to make 18 percent more HDL cholesterol — a protective blood fat that blocks formation of artery-stiffening plaque. Prefer an alcohol-free option? Drinking a large mug of dark hot cocoa daily will give you the same healthy HDL boost.
Getting a good night’s sleep is a heart-smart move — and now scientists have found how many hours it takes to hit the heart healthy sweet spot. In a study of 1,752 people with an average age of 64, researchers found those who slept between 6 and 8 hours a night had 38 percent less plaque build-up in their carotid arteries than those who slept more or less. The “just right” sleepers also had less stiffness in their arteries. The study authors credit sleep with allowing the sympathetic nervous system to gear down and the arteries to recover.
8. Donating Blood
Not only does it help save other people’s lives, donating blood rids your body of excess iron and older, clot-prone blood cells, which enables the heart to pump more easily. Finnish researchers say donating blood twice yearly cuts your heart attack risk by as much as 86 percent!
9. Dark Meat
Chicken drumsticks and thighs are packed with vitamin K-2 — a nutrient that heals and strengthens worn arteries so they’re far less likely to stiffen over the years. No wonder Dutch scientists have found that eating four servings of dark chicken meat weekly can cut your risk of clogged arteries, heart disease and stroke by 35 percent. Other good sources of K-2 include dark turkey meat, ground beef, and egg yolks.
10. French Maritime Bark
“The polyphenols in French maritime pine bark dramatically improve blood-vessel flexibility, which restores normal blood flow to lower blood pressure,” explains cardiologist Steven Gundry, MD. Also sold under the brand name Pycnogenol, this extract has been found to trim up to five points off of blood pressure. Taking a daily supplement also reduces waist circumference measurements and lowers fasting blood-glucose levels by 15 percent, according to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research. And if you’re already on a blood pressure medication, research shows that the herb also increases the effects of blood-pressure medication by as much as 75 percent — so you may be able to dial back your dose under a doctor’s supervision! To get the benefits, take 100 mg. daily like Life Extension Pycnogenol (Buy on Life Extension, $48).
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Save on Healthcare.
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