Surprising strategies to save your heart

The statistics are shocking but real: according to the American Heart Association, 43 million American women are affected by heart disease, and it is the leading cause of death among women. For too long, women have taken the “bikini approach” to their health, worrying about cancers of the breast and pelvic area. Yet heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined.

While these statistics are alarming, the good news is that there are simple steps that women can take to protect their hearts. February is Heart Health Month, so this is the perfect time to talk about how we can prevent heart disease. Below are seven surprising strategies that can save your heart.

1. Get another hour sleep. A recent Sleep in America poll reported that only half of women are getting adequate sleep (seven to eight hours). Lack of sleep can raise blood pressure, trigger inflammation, and promote atherosclerosis. Getting six hours of sleep or less per night has been found to increase women’s risk of heart disease, independent of other risk factors (such as smoking).

2. Dip the tortilla chip, drop the potato chip. Tortilla chips have more fiber and less fat. If you choose ones fortified with plant sterols and fiber-rich ingredients such as chia, flaxseed and beans, they may actually help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Dip your tortilla chips in fresh salsa. The lycopene in tomatoes can help lower blood pressure. Guacamole is good too, in moderation. Avocados get a bad rap for being high in fat, yet the fat they contain is primarily the good kind (monounsaturated). Plus they contain lots of soluble fiber, protein and antioxidants that are beneficial to heart health.

3. Cook with palm fruit oil rather than olive oil. Olive oil is great to use in salad dressings or add to foods after it is cooked, but it is not heat stable and its beneficial properties are lost when it is heated to high temperatures. Palm fruit oil is heat stable and contains potent antioxidants called tocotrienols that are good for the heart. Plus is it naturally free of trans fatty acids.

4. Give yoga a try. Yoga is an effective way to reduce stress, improve sleep and lower blood pressure. Once you learn the techniques and poses, it is something that is free and easy to incorporate into even the busiest schedule.

5. Laugh more. Laughing relaxes and expands blood vessels, which helps protect the heart. Negative emotions such as anger, hostility, worry and pessimism are associated with increased risk of heart disease, whereas the opposite traits are protective.

6. Be optimistic. Research conducted in more than 97,000 women found that optimists have lower rates of heart disease.

7. Stress less. Stress is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially in women. Adopt strategies to better deal with stress such as deep breathing, meditation and visualization. Stay away from prescription tranquilizers as they only offer a bandage approach to stress, and are associated with numerous side effects and risks. If you need a little extra help managing stress try a supplement that contains Suntheanine. This amino acid can help you feel more calm and relaxed and it also improves sleep quality.