(BPT) - It’s rare to find a person who hasn’t been affected by heart disease in some way. As the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease – and how to avoid it – should be top of mind, especially for baby boomers. Beyond scary statistics, heart health is about being able to live life to the fullest for as long as possible.
“Heart health is directly related to well-being,” says registered dietician Brooke Joanna Benlifer. “A strong and healthy heart allows one to be more physically active. Heart health can be directly influenced by healthy food choices and an active lifestyle, in addition to emotional well-being.”
To help boomers give a big boost to their heart health, Benlifer offers some important expert tips:
1. Understand and eat good fats
“Unsaturated fats are the good fats,” says Benlifer. “They are found in nuts, avocado, olive oil, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds as well as in fatty fish and fish oils.”
While incorporating good fats into your diet, Benlifer also says it’s important to avoid bad fats.
“Saturated fats are less healthy and are found in full-fat dairy products and lard, as well as in fatty cuts of beef. The worst kinds of fats are the trans fats, aka partially hydrogenated oils. These tend to be found in packaged and processed food items, allowing them to be shelf stable,” she says.
2. Eat heart healthy foods
The food you eat affects the health of your heart as well as your whole body. Eating nutritious foods helps you look and feel your best. Top heart healthy foods include:
* Fresh fruits and vegetables
* Whole grains/high fiber foods such as peas, beans and oatmeal
* Low-fat dairy products or calcium-rich foods
* Lean proteins, especially plant-based proteins like pumpkin seeds, quinoa, soy and legumes
* Healthy fats
3. Cook the heart healthy way
There are three simple strategies to use to help you cook – and therefore eat – the heart healthy way.
“First, use olive oil, canola oil or coconut oil – a healthier saturated fat – when cooking,” says Benlifer. “Next, try to steam and bake foods rather than deep frying. Finally, use fresh foods whenever possible and cook at home!”
4. Adopt a heart healthy supplement routine
It can be difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs simply through food, so supplements can be a good option for boomers and busy adults. Numerous studies have proven heart healthy benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s include DHA and EPA, both healthy fats found in fish oil supplements.
“DHA helps keep arteries clear and reduces inflammation,” Benlifer says. “EPA keeps plaque from rupturing. I use Nordic Naturals fish oil supplements for myself and my family, and have been doing so for years. I trust their quality and their commitment to education and research.”
5. Learn to love exercise
Exercise is crucial for both physical and mental benefits, including stress reduction. Remember, the heart is a muscle; aerobic exercise is great for strengthening the heart.
“I recommend, if cleared by one's doctor, that someone incorporate 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily into his or her life,” says Benlifer. “A combination of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise, strength training and flexibility training, or more restorative movement (yoga, tai chi, etc.) is important.”
Finally, in order for boomers to stay healthy and keep their heart strong, Benlifer recommends prioritizing sleep. “Sleep helps the body restore itself and is also highly correlated with a healthy weight. The less sleep one gets, the more likely he or she is to be overweight and stressed,” she says.