Strike a Pose for Heart Health
Many of us are familiar with the basics of heart health: quitting smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting enough sleep. An now you may be able to add a new weapon to your arsenal of heart-healthy habits: yoga.
Several recent studies are singing the praises of practicing yoga to boost heart health. In fact, clinical trials have found that doing yoga lowered cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate and other cardiovascular risk factors in amounts comparable to those seen with cardiovascular activity. While further trials are needed, many experts believe incorporating yoga into your lifestyle gives you a well-rounded approach to heart health. Paula Chu, a doctoral candidate in health policy at Harvard University who led the study concurs, "Taken together, these improvements could facilitate and complement a regimen toward better cardiovascular health."
Yoga's gentle stretches and poses are beneficial to those who want to maintain heart health as well as those who are fighting heart disease. According to Dr. Larry Phillips, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, "I think what we've seen is with yoga and the relaxation and behavior modification that goes along with it, there is a benefit to all patients, but especially those with heart disease. Here we are able to see there are more measurable benefits than we've seen before."
Besides the potential to improve your heart health numbers, practicing yoga can help boost your mood and energy level, plus decrease stress, which are all good for cardiovascular health and healthy living in general.
Before you run out and buy a yoga mat, start practicing downward dog poses, and greeting friends by saying "namaste", it's important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, talk to your doctor to determine whether yoga is right for you. If you decide you should give it a shot, be sure to find a class that is appropriate for your comfort level and ability. There are many types of yoga, so be sure to thoroughly research your options. And do not quit taking any medications you are currently using without your doctor's approval. Yoga should be used to complement your current heart health regimen, not replace it.
Need a quick refresher on basic heart health tips? C'mon...we can all use a gentle reminder. Since heart disease kills more people in the United States than all cancers combined, it's important to do all you can to keep your heart healthy.
· Don't smoke. Chemicals in tobacco damage your heart and blood vessels. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate. If you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease will drop to nearly the same as non-smokers in about 5 years.
· Exercise. 30 - 60 minutes of exercise most days is ideal, but even shorter amounts benefit your heart. Sound daunting? Gardening, walking the dog, parking farther from the door, taking the stairs - they all count as exercise.
· Eat a heart-healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains all help protect your heart, so make sure your diet is rich with these foods. Beans, other low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish (salmon and mackerel, for example) are also recommended. Avoid saturated fat and trans fat.
· Limit alcohol. For healthy adults, that means about 1 drink a day (for women or men over 65) and up to 2 drinks per day for men younger than 65.
· Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight leads to conditions that increase your risk of heart disease. If you need to reduce your weight, losing even 5 or 10% of your body weight will have enormous heart benefits.
· Get enough sleep. 7 - 9 hours a night is optimal for most adults and helps stave off a variety of health risks, including heart disease.
· Get regular health screenings. Next to prevention, early detection is the best way to get minor issues under control before they become major issues. Get regular physicals and routine tests done on the schedule your doctor recommends.
Think yoga might be a good addition to your current heart health practices? Talk to a trainer or yoga instructor today to get more information.